Clock seems to have struck midnight on Giants’ Cinderella-like start

New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll walks the sideline during the second half of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Giants at AT&T Stadium.
New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll walks the sideline during the second half of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Giants at AT&T Stadium. / Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas — Brian Daboll was as frustrated as he’d ever been — at least with the media. The Giants first-year head coach stood behind the podium in the visiting press room of AT&T Stadium and one-word or short-answered his way through the beginning portion of his post-game postmortem.

Eventually, Daboll snapped from his uncharacterized tone. He later apologized for his approach. It wasn’t anything personal, he said, this game was just a tough one. Indeed it was.

The Cowboys did much more than hand the Giants a 28-20 defeat on Thanksgiving. In doing so, they confirmed the reality this team has tried their damndest to ignore.

The Giants are an incredibly well-coached team, but they do not have the talent to compete with the best in the NFL.

“Tough game,” Daboll said. “Give Dallas credit.”

The reports from East Rutherford weren’t pretty this summer. Just about anyone who attended organized team activities, minicamp or training camp came away with the same dismal seasonal outlook.

Dave Gettleman, who served as New York’s general manager the four previous years, drove this roster into the ground. The Giants had issues at quarterback, receiver and on the interior of the offensive line. They were good up front and at safety on defense, but the linebacker and cornerback positions desperately needed an overhaul.

It’s hard to win with that many holes. So, this season would be a clean-up for the new regime led by Joe Schoen. Then, over the next two or three years, the Giants would rebuild. Eventually, they’d be ready to compete.

But then the regular season began. The Giants, to their credit, couldn’t stop winning. They jumped out to an almost unbelievable 6-1 start, highlighted by victories over the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, and Green Bay Packers. It was truly remarkable what they accomplished.

But now, the clock seems to have struck midnight on that Cinderella-like start. The Giants have dropped three of their last four, including two in a row for the first time all year.

“You can’t do nothing with that game,” said linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, who had five quarterback hits. “Just have to flush it and keep going.”

Almost every Giants game to this point follows the same script, at least in New York’s victories.

This team wants to play their opponent ugly. Scratch and claw their way through three quarters, make it a one-possession game in the fourth, then find a way to pull it out. That works against similarly-or-less talented competition. It becomes much, much harder against the league’s best teams, as the Giants are finding out now. This team isn’t capable of winning a shootout. They’re not capable of consistently erasing two-score deficits.

This game against Dallas set up perfectly for New York in the first half. The Giants jumped out 3-0, then scored 10 unanswered after a Dallas touchdown to make it 13-7 at half. The first half was highlighted with a stuff of the Cowboys in their own territory on fourth-and-two. The undermanned defense picked off quarterback Dak Prescott twice.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) catches a pass over New York Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes (30) during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) catches a pass over New York Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes (30) during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium / Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

But then the two teams came out for the second half. Tony Pollard (18 rushes, 60 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (16 rushes, 92 yards, touchdown) got going on the ground. CeeDee Lamb (six catches, 106 yards) ran rampant through the secondary. Prescott (21-of-30, 261 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) avoided the turnover and instead picked apart the bruised and battered Giants’ secondary. In no world is Mike McCarthy a better coach than Daboll, but the talent on his sideline was too much for Daboll’s staff to overcome. 

The Giants simply didn’t have the manpower to compete. They hung around for a bit, but eventually, talent prevailed. A late Richie James touchdown made this one look closer than it was. The Cowboys put the nail in the coffin well before the clock hit triple zeroes.

“I think it’s a tough loss,” said quarterback Daniel Jones, who finished 21-of-35 for 228 yards with a touchdown. “It’s a divisional game and a game where we didn’t play our best. That’s always disappointing.”

There is still a path for the Giants to the playoffs, although it’s a bit murkier after losing these last two to the Detroit Lions and Dallas. The magic number is (likely) 10. That means, assuming the finger-and-toes calculation is accurate, winning three more the rest of the way.

Next week the Giants host red-hot Washington (6-5), then it’s a road trip to Philadelphia (9-1), before another game against Washington. You figure they have to find a way to win at least two of those games. The Giants close the season in Minnesota (9-2), against the Indianapolis Colts (4-6-1), then in Philadelphia.

The Giants are through with the easy opponents. The last of those was Detroit. Even the Colts, thanks to new head coach Jeff Saturday, are playing some good football the last two weeks.

Reaching the postseason can still be the Giants' goal this year. It still should be. It would mark a major accomplishment for this new regime.

But going further? Doing more? The Giants just aren’t capable of that yet. The Cowboys confirmed that on Thanksgiving.

“I ain’t going to sit here and throw my helmet away and sh–,” linebacker Jihad Ward said. “Everything’s going to be alright.”