EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — One drive late in the fourth quarter Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys summed up the state of the Giants perfectly. Trailing by 7 with about seven minutes remaining, Daniel Jones threw two of his best passes of the night, but his receivers, Sterling Shepard and Kenny Golladay, dropped them.
The drive stalled at the Giants’ 22-yard line and KaVontae Turpin’s punt return put the Cowboys in position for a 44-yard field goal, essentially sealing the contest, which finished as a 23-16 Dallas victory.
The optimism surrounding the Giants’ first 2-0 start since 2016 quickly turned to frustration as the game opened with a sloppy first half in which both teams missed field-goal attempts and went into halftime with the Cowboys ahead, 6-3.
It soon transformed into a back-and-forth affair toward the end of the third quarter, as both teams scored rushing touchdowns on successive drives. After the Giants opened the second half with Graham Gano kicking a 51-yard field goal to tie the score, the team’s next possession finished with running back Saquon Barkley sorting through a congested line of scrimmage to burst into the end zone for a 36-yard score to put the Giants up 13-6 after the extra point.
The Cowboys responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with an Ezekiel Elliott 1-yard touchdown run.
But in the fourth quarter, the Giants’ errors allowed Dallas to pull away. On a Cowboys’ first-and-10 from the Giants’ 27-yard line, a defensive breakdown allowed Dallas quarterback Cooper Rush to find receiver CeeDee Lamb for a 26-yard completion. Lamb finished the drive with an acrobatic one-handed catch for a 1-yard touchdown that pushed the score to 20-13 with nearly eight minutes remaining.
Jones could find no such breakthroughs. He finished with 196 passing yards and was sacked five times as the Cowboys’ pass rush constantly pressured him. In the Giants’ final offensive possession, with about one minute remaining and a chance to tie the game, Jones threw an interception to cornerback Trevon Diggs, ending any comeback attempt.
Barkley, who is attempting to revive his career after years of serious injuries, rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
The Giants had compiled close victories in their first two games, overcoming a 13-point deficit to beat the Titans, 21-20, in Week 1 and besting the Panthers, 19-13, in a sluggish offensive outing in Week 2. The contests allowed the new coach, Brian Daboll, and general manager, Joe Schoen, to evaluate their roster with an eye toward the future. Because of questionable contracts doled out by the precious leadership group, the Giants’ brass entered the season with salary-cap trouble. Next year, when those contracts are alleviated, the pair will have an expected $60 million to operate in free agency.
The new leadership has been bold in its strategy, and has not apologized for its methods. Golladay, the receiver acquired in free agency by the Giants’ former leadership last season, has played sparingly, as has the 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney.
“I think something we want to create is as competitive of a team as we can,” Daboll said last week in a news conference. “Regardless of where you’re drafted, how you got here, how much money you make, we believe in everybody goes out there and competes, and we play the guys that earn the right to play that week.”
The rookie offensive tackle Evan Neal struggled, allowing three sacks against the veteran defensive tackle DeMarcus Lawrence. Kayvon Thibodeaux, the rookie edge rusher who played in his first game for the Giants since injuring his knee in a preseason game, registered one tackle.
The Cowboys, contrastingly, won while overcoming key injuries and mistakes. The backup quarterback, Rush, playing while Dallas’s star quarterback, Dak Prescott, recovers from thumb surgery, threw for 215 yards and a touchdown, while the running backs Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 178 rushing yards. Lamb caught eight passes for 87 yards and a score, despite dropping a potential touchdown pass in the second quarter.