Monday, September 21, 2009

Giants slip past Dallas in scintillating fashion

As the final four seconds ticked away at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night, the NFL-record crowd of 105,121 fell silent. The massive arena’s abrupt shift from raucous to taciturn was brought upon by Lawrence Tynes’ 37-yard field goal as time expired, which gave the New York Giants a thrilling 33-31 victory in the first regular season game at Dallas’ palatial new digs.

Much was made of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ lavish, Texas-sized $1.15 billion stadium, much of which was paid for out of his own pocket. Unfortunately, the Cowboys themselves couldn’t come close to matching the excellence of the stadium in which they played, turning the ball over four times in a decidedly-sloppy performance. That the game was only decided by two points was a testament to the Giants’ continuing red zone woes – New York could have handily beaten the Cowboys on this night.

The Giants managed zero touchdowns in a whopping five trips inside the Dallas 20, whereas the Cowboys were a perfect 4-for-4 in red zone situations. This red zone disparity was certainly the mitigating factor in the game’s closeness, and raised some serious red flags for the Giants going forward.

However, New York’s red zone troubles by no means overshadowed the many bright spots of the game.

The Giants’ 2008 first-round choice Kenny Phillips intercepted two passes and made several touchdown-saving tackles as the last line of defense against an overpowering Dallas rushing attack. On one of the interceptions, Phillips was robbed of a pick-six after catching a bizarre deflection off of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten’s foot – the official erroneously ruled the play incomplete, but it was overturned by video replay.

On offense, Eli Manning turned in one of the most impressive performances of his career, throwing for 330 yards on a night when the New York running game was suffocated. The defining drive came at the end of the game, when the always-cool quarterback marched the Giants out of a first-and-20 hole and into position for the game-winning field goal.

Sharing in Eli’s highlight reel performance was the young-receiver tandem of Steve Smith and Mario Manningham, who, in combining for 20 catches, 284 yards and two touchdowns, put to rest any uncertainty in the 2009 Giants receiving corps. Manningham, in particular, demonstrated that he still has all of the big-play ability that he became known for at Michigan. (An aside: “Manning to Manningham” is too good of a catch-phrase to NOT work, right?)

The bruised New York secondary performed admirably against the previously-vaunted Dallas air game, picking off three Tony Romo passes despite playing without starting cornerback Aaron Ross and dime back Kevin Dockery.

Despite this, the Cowboys exposed a troubling weakness in this year’s Giants: The pathetic ground effort on both sides of the ball. New York, which built a reputation as one of the best rushing teams in the NFL, appeared overmatched at the line of scrimmage throughout Sunday’s contest. Brandon Jacobs couldn’t even manage enough of a head-start to break most tackles, and Dallas’ duo of Marion Barber III and Felix Jones slashed through gaping holes all night as the Giants’ supposedly-dominant front seven was instead dominated by the Cowboys’ O-line.

It was a resounding victory for Big Blue, given the environment in which they played. However, enough red flags were raised that fans’ hopes should be tempered in the coming weeks. Knowing the coaching style of Tom Coughlin, it’s going to be a long week of practice for the victorious G-Men.

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