EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The game started with the Giants Stadium PA system playing the Twisted Sister teen anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It." By the end, the New York Giants took the pain of their fourth consecutive loss in far more stoic fashion.
The Giants strutted and fretted throughout the week, blaming anyone with pen or microphone for their woes. But when Dallas Cowboys kicker Martin Gramatica hit a 46-yard field goal with one second remaining to secure a 23-20 victory Sunday, the Giants were left with no one to blame but themselves.
They have dropped to 6-6 and have watched the Cowboys, who seemed in disarray when the Giants whipped them in Dallas in Week 7, take control of the NFC East at 8-4. The Cowboys now host New Orleans next Sunday night in a game that could go a long way toward deciding the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
New York coach Tom Coughlin exemplified the quiet desperation the Giants had to swallow. Coughlin became frustrated toward the end of his postgame speech and left the lectern before reporters were done asking questions. Coughlin wasn't screaming with anger. Rather, his approach seemed to be one of resignation.
"You should check that," Coughlin said, mildly criticizing reporters who wondered why his team had to settle for field goals in a couple of critical situations.
Perhaps Coughlin should take some of his own advice. The iron-fisted coach with a pass-happy trigger finger made what looked like one questionable decision after another. On two occasions, the Giants had first-and-goal inside the Dallas 9-yard line. Both times, New York settled for field goals.
Of the six plays the Giants ran in those situations, four were passes, all of which went incomplete. One was a run by Tiki Barber. Only one was a run by 6-foot-4, 264-pound power back Brandon Jacobs, who came into the game leading the Giants with eight touchdown runs, including four in the previous three games. Fittingly, Jacobs' run was the only one of the six plays to gain yards.
Then again, this has been Coughlin's style for years. For all his tough rules and control-freak style, Coughlin doesn't believe in tough football. At least, he doesn't call plays like it. His teams in Jacksonville blew chances to get to the Super Bowl when Coughlin time and again played pass-happy football.
Worse, even when the Giants used Jacobs in a tough situation, they used him wrong. The score was tied at 7-7 with 1:30 remaining in the first half and the Giants faced a fourth-and-1 situation from the Dallas 24-yard line.
Rather than take the field goal, Coughlin went for it. Jacobs went in for the play, and the call seemed only natural to run him between the tackles. However, the Giants went with the unnatural call. Jacobs ran wide to the left, a cutback play which requires more quickness than power. Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware did a terrific job of forcing Jacobs further to the outside and eventually tackled him for a 3-yard loss. Dallas responded by driving for a field goal and a 10-7 lead at halftime.
"I ran the play that was called," Jacobs said.
Asked about the fact that he didn't get the ball more around the goal line, Jacobs didn't second-guess the plan.
"We have another running back who is a very talented guy," Jacobs said, referring to Barber. "We have certain personnel packages that we put in the game at certain times. We run the plays that are called."
But one would think Jacobs would have had his number called more near the end zone.
"Every spot on the field is a good spot for me," Jacobs said.
While some players such as Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey openly have second-guessed the coaching staff following losses, that wasn't the case Sunday.
"It's easy to question things when you lose," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "The bottom line is that you've gotta make those plays. … Again, everybody is a genius when the game is over."
That said, O'Hara acknowledged that these are the difficult times that test a team.
"The tough thing in the NFL is to not question yourself or each other when you go through things like this," he said. "We're not going to question ourselves. We're tough enough to get through this."
Time will tell if that's the case. In the meantime, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo continued to show that he's tough enough to lead the Cowboys in the aftermath of taking over for Drew Bledsoe at halftime of the October loss to New York. The Cowboys won for the fifth time in Romo's six starts.
Romo showed some defects in the first half as he threw two interceptions and fumbled once. But Romo showed no jitters when the game was on the line. He completed five of seven passes for 91 yards and ran once for 10 yards on Dallas' final two possessions. The Cowboys ended up with 10 points on the two drives.
Among the completions in that stretch was a beautiful 42-yard completion to tight end Jason Witten on the game-winning drive. Romo escaped pressure to buy time to make the throw. It was another example of the young quarterback finding an answer at the right time.
And it left New York searching for some.