Having been eliminated weeks ago from playoff contention for all intents and purposes, the New York Giants have had the opportunity to inject some meaning back into their season by embracing the role of spoiler and operating under the mindset that if they could not finish the journey to the postseason, then no other team would have an easy time of making the playoffs either. But, as it turns out, playing the role of spoiler, which requires an inferior team to continually pull off upsets over much more accomplished opponents, is easier said than done. After Sunday’s enormously disappointing 31-28 loss to the Cowboys, the Giants could only rue the missed opportunities that resulted in them going 0-for-4 in their turn at being a spoiler.
First, they were decimated by the Indianapolis Colts, then they were trampled over by the Seattle Seahawks, then they backed up those two defeats with a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in a game in which quarterback Manning was decidedly turnover-happy, and finally they fell to the Cowboys in a contest where they let control slip from their inadequate grip. If their record was not already indicative enough of their overall inability to rise above the depths of mediocrity for long enough to consistently secure victories, their performance over the past four weeks — especially how they failed to close out the second half of the Cowboys game — cements the Giants as an also-ran this season.
Still, despite their overall status as being one of the worst NFL teams through 11 weeks, a trend that will likely continue when all the Week 12 data is tabulated, in the first half of Sunday’s game, the Giants looked like how they probably thought they should have looked all season. By the end of the first half, the Giants had a 21-10 lead and a win probability of 91.0 percent that had been earned through some stifling defensive play and the heroics of wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., who caught everything that was thrown his way, in an array of receptions ranging from the mundane to one for which the adjective extraordinary still falls well short of accurately describing.
In the first half, the Giants defense held the Cowboys to 10 points and 158 net yards and prevented the Cowboys from sustaining their five possessions long enough to score more points; this was done by limiting the Cowboys’ third-down efficiency as on only two of their six third downs were the Cowboys able to gain the requisite yardage to obtain a first down. Making sure that the yeoman’s work put in by the defense would stand the test of time, Manning and Beckham hooked up with commendable regularity as Beckham was Manning’s security blanket and snagged all eight of the balls thrown his way en route to gaining 125 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Running back Andre Williams also scored a touchdown in the first half, but the first 30 minutes of the contest were all about the strong defensive efforts of the Giants and the heroics of Beckham.
Heading into the locker room, the Giants were poised to secure their first victory since Week 5 and also deal a sledgehammer of a blow to the Cowboys’ playoff aspirations. With such a large lead increasing their margin of error, the Giants’ assignment for the second half was relatively simple: just maintain enough of their efficiency to hold off any comeback attempt the Cowboys might make. Unfortunately, the assignment proved to be too difficult for the Giants to handle, and they could not prevent themselves from regressing to the way they usually play.
After holding the vaunted Cowboys offensive stars in check for the first half, the Giants defense was exposed as fraudulent during the second half. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on three of their five second-half possessions during which they were trying to gain positive yardage, finding their way to the end zone thanks to the steady running of DeMarco Murray, the precision passing of Tony Romo that was assisted by the large chunks of time he was given by the impressive pass protection of his offensive line in order to dissect the Giants defense, and the nonpareil receiving ability of Dez Bryant who shook off Giants defenders long enough to account for two second-half touchdowns. The Giants also failed to account for afterthought shifty wide receiver Cole Beasley, who was on the receiving and running end of a 45-yard touchdown pass. All the hard work that was done by the Giants defense in the first half was negated by their inability to stop the Cowboys in the second half.
Similar to how the offense and the defense worked in tandem to build their first-half lead, they also showed excellent synergy in making sure that the Cowboys’ rally would go unchecked. As the defense was giving up 21 second-half points, the offense was finding it more of a challenge to sustain their drives and avoid turnovers. Three of the Giants’ six second-half possessions ended in punts, another was cut short by the obligatory weekly Manning interception, and their last drive of the game — when they required a first down to have any hopes of at least tying the game with a field goal — ended with a turnover on downs. The Giants were able to put it all together for one 93-yard touchdown drive that briefly gave them a 28-24 lead, but there was ultimately no stopping the Cowboys’ train and the Giants touchdown was quickly answered by the victory-clinching 13-yard touchdown catch by Dez Bryant.
At this point, the Giants are well-accustomed to letting games slip from their fingers through an inability to make enough winning plays, and Sunday’s result was just the latest instance of such an occurrence. But simply being used to something awful does not make it any easier to stomach, and it is a certainty that the Giants will have a hard time overcoming the loss of a game where they held such a decided advantage throughout most of the proceedings, only to watch powerlessly as the Cowboys snatched victory away from them.