ARLINGTON, Texas (CBSNewYork/AP) — Giants quarterback Eli Manning disgustedly swiped his right arm in the air when his short pass got tipped into the waiting hands of Brandon Carr, and again as the Dallas Cowboys cornerback ran past him on the way to the end zone.
This was a new experience for Manning, even with 450 yards passing and four touchdowns. The turnover-plagued Giants lost in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion showcase stadium for the first time.
Carr’s 49-yard interception return with 1:50 left, a screen pass that deflected off running back Da’Rel Scott, pushed the Cowboys to a 36-31 victory in the season opener Sunday night.
“It was kind of a bad break,” Manning said. “I thought he was going to sit there and I was just going to pop it to him. He made a move and it was just kind of unfortunate that it popped off his arm. Just a bad break, but we’ve got some young running backs and some young guys, and we’ve just got to get on the same page.”
That was the third interception by Manning and the sixth turnover by the Giants, matching their most since 1987.
“Six times. We gave the ball away — six times,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I’m totally, totally disappointed, embarrassed about that football. That’s sloppy, sloppy football.”
Dallas safety Barry Church also returned running back David Wilson’s second fumble 27 yards for a score in the third quarter, when there was also a botched punt by the Giants that set up another short Cowboys touchdown drive.
“You’re not going to win the game turning the ball over five times and muffing a punt,” Coughlin said.
New York started the game with turnovers on their first three drives, all in the first 6½ minutes. There were two interceptions by Manning, including his first pass of the night. In between those picks was a fumble by Wilson on the Giants’ first running play — and came inside the Dallas 10.
“It’s infectious. It’s contagious,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We challenged them at halftime. We had three, let’s get three more.”
Wilson fumbled on his second career carry as a rookie last season.
“He’s not going to play unless he can hang onto the ball. It’s demoralizing to the whole team. He’s a talented young man,” Coughlin said. “We’ll get him right even if he has to run around the whole field with two hands on the ball. We need him. De’Rel Scott did some good things, but popping that ball up — there’s needs to be a sense of urgency.”
The Cowboys managed only a field goal from those first three turnovers, but New York gave them more chances.
“The whole game was a total disregard, carelessness with the ball, a lack of understanding of that’s how you lose,” Coughlin said.
Two of the latter turnovers resulted in touchdowns, and a muffed punt set up a short TD drive by Dallas in the third quarter.
Despite all those miscues, the Giants still had a chance to improve to 5-0 in the Cowboys’ stadium that opened in 2009 with New York’s 33-31 victory on a field goal as time expired.
The Giants cut it to 30-24 when Victor Cruz caught his third touchdown, a 10-yarder with 8:54 left.
Dallas was initially held without a first down on its ensuing drive before Aaron Ross was called for pass interference. But Tony Romo was sacked on consecutive plays to force a punt. The teams traded punts again the Giants got the ball at its 17 with 2:41 left.
After converting third-and-5 with a 26-yard pass to Rueben Randle to near midfield, Manning threw a short pass to Scott, who deflected the ball right to Carr, whose return put the Cowboys up 36-24.
“It is a terrible feeling, seeing that. And then taking it back for a touchdown,” Scott said. “It hurt a lot. We had a chance to win. Just chocked. So I have to bounce back from it.”
Manning completed 27 of 42 passes and had three 100-yard receivers, all with five catches each — Cruz (118 yards), Hakeem Nicks (114) and Randle (101).
Romo was 36 of 49 for 263 yards with two touchdown catches to Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, who had only three TDs all last season. Miles Austin had 10 catches for 72 yards and DeMarco Murray had 86 yards rushing.
Murray also prevented a touchdown, chasing down Ryan Mundy and tackling him at the 1 after a 91-yard return of an interception that deflected off the fellow defensive back Prince Amukamara.
The Giants failed to get in from there, and had to settle for Josh Brown’s 20-yard field goal that made it 3-3.
Amukamara and Mundy collided helmet-to-helmet while making a tackle late in the first half. Amukamara sustained a concussion and didn’t return, while Mundy was cleared to play after halftime.
Dallas went up 27-10 in the third quarter a punt that bounced and hit Trumaine McBride while he was trying to block for the return. Rookie Devonte Holloman won a scramble for the loose ball, and Romo threw a 4-yard scoring pass to Witten.
The Cowboys, who had only 16 turnovers all last year, switched to a four-man front with new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and swore all preseason that taking the ball away was the foremost thing on their minds. They proved it from the first snap of the season, when DeMarcus Ware picked off Manning, and had their most in a game since 2003.
“I think it has to do with players hustling to the ball,” Church said. “Coaches have been putting it to us since training camp. Get to the ball and force turnovers. That’s what we did. We were able to rake out a couple and get a couple of picks and score.”
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