EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Super Bowl champion New York Giants lost a little of their swagger, and all it took was one game.
The sense of confidence that permeated the locker room during training camp and in the weeks leading up to the 2012 season was noticeably missing Thursday, less than 24 hours after Tom Coughlin’s team was drubbed by the Dallas Cowboys 24-17 in the kickoff to the NFL season.
To be honest, the score wasn’t that close.
Dallas was the better team. The Giants looked very much like the team that struggled through the first 14 games of last season before finishing with a 6-0 run to claim their second title in five seasons. It was the one thing Coughlin wanted to avoid in bridging the seasons.
Still, the errors they made against Dallas were correctable.
What concerned Coughlin was his players’ approach. They didn’t practice well on two of the three days leading up to the game, and there was just something missing in their performance. It was like Dallas wanted it more.
“It’s real good time for self-analysis and to figure out what you can do as an individual to help the team,” said placekicker Lawrence Tynes, a member of both of the Giants’ recent championship teams. “I just think the long weekend will give us time to reflect and come back hungry on Monday and ready to prepare better, practice better and play better.”
The Giants, who will have off the next three days before starting preparations for a home game against Tampa Bay, didn’t do much right on either side of the ball.
Tony Romo shredded the secondary for 307 yards passing and three touchdowns, and running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 131 yards. Dallas’ new offensive line allowed only two sacks and Romo wasn’t hit much by New York’s vaunted group of defensive ends.
Defensively, the Cowboys limited the Giants to 269 yards and held them to 82 yards rushing, most of that coming on second-half runs of 33 and 10 yards by Ahmad Bradshaw. The run game was so bad New York had to settle for a field goal after getting a first-and-goal at the 1 following a 51-yard interception by linebacker Michael Boley. The first two runs lost 3 yards and Eli Manning’s third-down pass to Victor Cruz was incomplete, although it was clear the replacement officials missed a pass interference call.
“A sense of urgency is starting to set in,” Boley said. “You know, just because we had some high expectations, you know, for the game and team-wise we didn’t achieve those goals. And so, guys coming today are really starting to refocus on some things that we need to be better at.”
Coughlin’s disappointment didn’t ease 24 hours later. When he laughed midway through his news conference, he said it said it might have been the first time he managed to do that Thursday.
“Certainly to lose a game is not a good thing, OK,” the recently turned 66-year-old coach said. “It’s not a good thing. There are 15 to go. This is what I told our team: ‘It’s how we respond right now that’s critical. Get back to work. Grind. Grind a little bit. Forget about all the smoke being blown. This is a new year and a new team.”
Some of the issues are old, the lack of a running game in particular. The Giants were the NFL’s worst team rushing in 2011 and they were awful on kickoffs the season.
Losing the opener isn’t new either. Washington embarrassed New York last season in another anemic performance.
“A loss is a loss,” guard Chris Snee said. “I don’t recall a good loss. I am not going to rank the disappointing losses in my career. The product that we put out there is not one that we are proud of. I think anyone can see that. It’s a collective effort, and offensively we have to score more than 17 points.”
Snee and middle linebacker Chase Blackburn admitted that anyone watching the game would have come away with the belief Dallas wanted it more.
“I felt like they had more energy than we did, to be honest with you, and it should not have been that way,” Blackburn said. “It was one of those things, like coach said, it meant more to them than it did to us. For whatever reason, that’s the way we played. We just didn’t execute things properly.”
The goal for the Giants now is to fix things.
“I think that the players, their eyes are open to the fact that we lost a football game that we certainly thought we had a chance to win,” Coughlin said. “Had our play been a little bit better, we may have been able to do something about the outcome.”
If they don’t do a better job against the Bucs, the season and the swagger might be long gone.