Costly Mistakes Plague Giants In Week 1 Loss
There are really only two main things that can prevent a team with talent and experience from winning football games: turnovers and injuries. Both of those things played a major role in the Giants' 36-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
There's no question that the Giants have what it takes to be a contender in the NFC this season. They have the talent, the experience and the coaching. However, what they also have is a problem with taking care of the football and avoiding costly mistakes that come at the most inopportune times.
Sunday night's game began with an Eli Manning interception — on the first play from scrimmage — and was also effectively ended by another Manning interception late in the fourth quarter on a play that should have never even happened in the first place. In between those two interceptions was a frantic game filled with poor decision-making; sloppy, undisciplined play; and almost every other trait characteristic of a Week 1 game in the NFL. In other words, it was a game that highlighted the glaring flaws in both teams, even if it may not be indicative of how the season ultimately turns out for either of them.
Right off the bat on Sunday night, the Giants' injury concerns were placed front-and-center when RB David Wilson had himself a repeat of last year's Week 1 game against Dallas by fumbling twice. To make matters worse, the fumbles were both devastating turnovers for the Giants. The first one, which occurred early in the first half, happened with the Giants driving at the Cowboys' seven-yard line and threatening to score and grab the momentum back from Dallas. The second one, which happened on the Giants' first offensive possession of the second half, was recovered by Barry Church and returned 27 yards for a backbreaking touchdown that gave Dallas a 20-10 lead and took the air out of the Giants' sails.
The Giants only trailed 13-10 at the half, which was something of a minor miracle considering the fact that their first three offensive possessions of the game ended in a turnover. Credit should be given to the Giants' defensive unit, which made sure that the Cowboys turned those three turnovers into only three points and, after a disastrous first quarter, the game was tied at 3-3. Right before the half, Manning connected with Victor Cruz on a beautiful 70-yard touchdown pass that put the Giants right back in the game and gave them some momentum going into halftime — that is, until Wilson fumbled it away to start the third. After that, it was an uphill climb for the Giants to get back in the game.
What's remarkable, though, was the fact that the Giants actually did get back in the game. In fact, they had the ball near midfield at the two-minute warning trailing 30-24. Despite the bad turnovers and the bad decisions, the Giants were in a position to win the game with under two minutes to go and down by only one score — at least until Wilson's fumbles and subsequent benching came back to haunt the Giants yet again. In fact, the ghost of Andre Brown's injury even stepped in to do a little haunting as well. On a first down pass following a 26-yard completion to Rueben Randle, Manning's screen for Da'Rel Scott went off his hands and into the waiting arms of Dallas LB Brandon Carr, who returned it 49 yards for a 36-24 Dallas lead and the final nail in the coffin.
Without Wilson's fumbles, Scott isn't even in the game on that play and perhaps the Giants complete the comeback and snatch away an improbable victory from the jaws of defeat. Furthermore, if Brown isn't injured, he's in the game instead of Scott and maybe that play doesn't happen. But, nonetheless, neither Wilson nor Brown were on the field late in the fourth on Sunday night and the Giants paid dearly for their collective absence.
So just how bad was this loss in the grand scheme of things? For starters, it was extremely discouraging to see the same sloppy, mistake-filled play that killed the Giants so many times last year return in full force. To make things worse, there is now a sudden dilemma at the running back position that didn't exist two weeks ago. The Giants have a young starting running back in Wilson that is losing the faith of his head coach and second-string running back that won't return for at least another six weeks. They'll attempt to remedy that situation by signing a veteran free agent running back this week. Some names that have been floating around include Willis McGahee and former Giant Brandon Jacobs.
But while a move like that may add a little more depth and security at the running back position temporarily, it does nothing to address the real issue: Wilson's inability to protect the football. If you remember, Tiki Barber had a lot of trouble with holding on to the football in his early years with the Giants, and this situation feels an awful lot like deja vu for many Giants fans. Hopefully, Wilson can continue to work on ball control as the season goes on and fix the issue. Otherwise, his fumbling problem will quickly overshadow his skills and speed at the running back position.
This turnover problem isn't just Wilson’s; it's a problem that the entire team needs to address. Manning's three interceptions on Sunday night accounted for half of the Giants' six turnovers. It's almost impossible to win a football game when you turn the ball over six times. Since 1990, teams with six or more turnovers in a game are 9-111, and teams with a turnover differential of negative five are 6-132.
One thing to realize, though, is that the Giants will probably not turn the ball over five-plus times every game this season. The turnover situation will likely improve, and they'll also catch a few more breaks on things like fumbles and tipped passes — none of which went their way on Sunday night. And if there's one silver lining to take away from this loss, it was the fact that Manning, despite his mistakes and the Giants' early deficit, still found a way to bring the team to the brink of a comeback with his arm. His 450 yards and four touchdowns — along with brilliant performances from Cruz, Randle and Hakeem Nicks — suggest that the Giants offense will be able to put points on the board at will this season. The only question is whether or not they'll be able to keep from sabotaging themselves.