Loss to Cowboys Only The Beginning?

In their history under Tom Coughlin, the Giants have followed fast starts with second-half stumbles. Could their setback against Dallas be the start of another slide? An Insiders analysis.

Now starts the learned speculation and the reading of tea leaves.

Might Sunday's 33-20 loss to Dallas, in the friendly, though power outage-induced darkened confines of the New Meadowlands Stadium, be the beginning of yet another second-half slide under Tom Coughlin?

As pessimistic as that sounds, the thought is not without basis. Coughlin's six previous seasons since he took over in 2004 have started 5-2 or better. But only in 2005, when they ended with a 5-3 second half, and 2007, when they broke even at 4-4, did they not experience a severe second-half stumble.

In 2004, they finished 1-8 as Coughlin made the transition from Kurt Warner to a then-rookie Eli Manning. Understandable.

In '06, they went 2-6. They finished the '08 season on a 1-3 slide. And we all know what happened last year, when a 5-0 start against the cupcakes of the NFL was quickly forgotten under a 3-8 finish that saw Osi Umenyiora lose his job and the Giants simply fold up against Carolina when they still had a shot at the playoffs.

Throw out the two winning or even seasons, and you've got a 7-27 track record of second-half swoons.

So why should anyone think the latest loss to the 2-7 Cowboys, a team supposedly in disarray and under interim coach Jason Garrett, not experience the same difficulties? They shouldn't. Especially with a huge game in Philadelphia coming up Sunday night.

Justin Tuck thought otherwise, however.

"I feel as though we have learned from that, but I am not mad, I am not really sad about this game, I am actually kind of glad in a way," Tuck said. "Maybe this is that wake up call we can use. Maybe this is a chance for us to kind of look at ourselves and say that we aren't as good as we thought we were and it gives us an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and continue to go out there in practice and work.

"Sometimes in this game you win games like we have in the last month and a half and you are complacent and you start not going through your daily routines and crossing every T and dotting every I. For us it gives us an opportunity to go back to the grind, go back to where we were after that Tennessee game. That is how we are feeling right now, that is hopefully how we respond to this."

Count Tuck among the optimists, though. The Giants have serious problems moving forward, issues that simple gameplanning won't resolve. Start with that patchwork line, which may have received another blow as reserve guard-turned-starter Kevin Boothe left and then returned with a knee problem. When the veteran was out, the protection for Manning underwent a definite change when rookie Mitch Petrus stepped in. And it was Boothe who got called for the hold that erased Hakeem Nicks' touchdown catch that would have cut the Cowboys' lead to six points with almost half the fourth quarter left to play.

Just as serious as that is what is now a paper-thin wide receivers corps. Don't count on second-year player Ramses Barden next week, as he was hobbling around on a sprained ankle with crutches and a walking boot. And Steve Smith won't be ready to come back against Philadelphia because of his strained pectoral muscle.

Is anybody really that confident in undrafted rookie Duke Calhoun in the three-wide set?

Also, Manning hasn't really gotten over his turnover problems. On Sunday, he looked like the struggling quarterback of the 2007 regular season, throwing horrible interceptions at exactly the wrong times. The one Bryan McCann returned 101 yards for a touchdown hit him right in the numbers. No extra effort needed at all. Garrett might have cut him right then and there if he dropped that one.

Just as suddenly as the offense went poof, what had been a shutdown defense suddenly lapsed. A screen to Felix Jones went for 71 yards and a touchdown. Dez Bryant was a nightmare, and will be for years to come.

The cameras even caught Coughlin jawing at defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, with Fewell firing back. Not a good sideline scene.

If it continues, the loss that dropped the Giants to 6-3 might just be the beginning of something really bad. History indicates there is little reason to think otherwise.

Unless the team pulls itself together immediately, well before they find themselves in Green Bay the day after Christmas, trying to hang on to a playoff berth.

"We have only played two division games and we have a lot of football left," Manning said. "We have to definitely learn and get it through our heads. We can't keep making mistakes. We have to fix some things and if we can do that we can play some great football, we really can.

"You are going to have some penalties, you are going to have some bad drives and mistakes here or there and it is about overcoming them. When you just keep doing some things over again and when you have too many good plays taken out we are putting ourselves in too many bad situations."

Sounds a lot like previous season. If that sounds ominous, well, history speaks for itself.

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