By Paul Dottino
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Good teams, playoff teams, do not continue to make enough mistakes to lose games.
The Giants (4-7) have learned that the hard way this season. The 24-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys (6-5) allowed their rivals to sweep the season series — both games in sloppy fashion — and realistically take away the Giants’ hopes of making the postseason.
The truth is the Giants are no better or no worse than the horde of NFL teams stuck in the middle of mediocrity in what has become a parity-driven league. In fact, the Cowboys are in the same swamp, although they were able to convert three third-downs on the game-winning drive that resulted in Dan Bailey’s 35-yard field goal to end the game.
Offense: RBs Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs — On a windy, cold day when it became imperative to run the ball, Brown (21 carries for 127 yards) and Jacobs (9 carries for 75 yards) did exactly what they had to do to keep the Giants alive.
In fact, you cam easily debate that they should have been given the ball even more. Brown tied the game with a 2-point conversion up the middle after Louis Murphy’s 4-yard TD catch with 4:45 to play. Jacobs provided energy and a spark almost every time he carried the ball, highlighted by a 37-yard burst in the second quarter.
Defense: DT Cullen Jenkins — Jenkins had two sacks, and his second one allowed the Giants to stay within one score late in the third quarter. On 3rd-and-7 from the Giants’ 39, Jenkins drilled QB Tony Romo for an 8-yard loss that took the Cowboys out of field-goal range and kept the score at 21-13.
It took two more changes of possession, but the Giants finally were able to tie the game midway into the fourth quarter.
Special Teams: S Ryan Mundy and LB Spencer Paysinger — Mundy was a special-teams ace with the Pittsburgh Steelers and showed every bit of that in this one, with three stops on kick coverage. Paysinger had two stops, including one for a 4-yard loss on a Dwayne Harris punt return in the first quarter.
Offense: WR Victor Cruz — Tom Coughlin expected the officials to blow the whistle to signify the end of forward progress after Cruz was stood up by Orlando Scandrick and Kyle Wilber on a first-quarter fumble that Jeff Heath returned 50 yards for a TD for a 7-0 lead with 4:27 left.
Cruz was near the right sideline when contact was made, but he attempted to fight for another yard and was driven sideways as Scandrick stripped the ball. The score forced the Giants to play uphill — they rarely had to do so during their four-game winning streak — and they never truly recovered.
Defense: CB Antrel Rolle — It could have not gotten any worse for him on the game-winning drive. He was targeted on four Romo completions, including the final pass for 13 yards when Rolle fell down while trying to cover Cole Beasley, who got free off the line and caught a square-out at the Giants’ 20 and scampered to the 15 to set up the winning kick.
Rolle also was in man-coverage as WR Dez Bryant converted two third-downs on the drive and allowed WR Miles Austin a decent release out of the right slot to catch a 17-yard square-in that put the ball at the Giants’ 28 with 1:43 left. Earlier, Bryant came back along the left sideline for a 19-yard pass on 3rd-and-7 to reach the Dallas 42. On 3rd-and-5, Bryant ran a slant from the left side inside Rolle for 8 yards.
Special Teams: DE Damontre Moore — He was flagged for an illegal block on Reuben Randle’s 21-yard punt return midway through the fourth quarter that would have allowed the Giants to start at the Dallas 43.
Rather, they had to open the drive at their own 42, trailing 21-13 with 8:58 to play. The offense covered the mistake with an eight-play TD drive to tie the game.
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