No matter what the Giants do, it seems, there is always a gremlin waiting just on the other side of their nightmares to punch them in the face.
Monday night they put together a courageous comeback against the Dallas Cowboys -- in truth, a team they should have put away easily -- and with 11 seconds remaining Matt Bryant kicked a 30-yard field goal that gave them a 32-29 lead.
Just 11 seconds. Just time enough for one of those deep squib kickoffs down the middle of the field. You know, by the time the Cowboys field it and the clock starts running, the game is at least almost over. Maybe there's time for one play, but with the ball so deep in your own territory, hey, knock your socks off.
So Bryant had a little conversation with special teams coach Bruce Read, who delivered these three fatal words as his instruction to the kicker: "Kick it left."
That's what he said, so that's what Bryant did. But he kicked it a smidge too far to the left, you see. And it bounced crazily down the sideline -- the one to Bryant's left -- and then, almost as if directed by some malevolent gremlin, it bounced out of bounds at the Cowboys' 1-yard line.
You know what happens when a kickoff goes out of bounds these days in the NFL, right? Yep, it gets spotted on the receiving team's 40-yard line and no time comes off the clock.
So the Cowboys, with 11 seconds remaining, had time for one play, and it was a 27-yard pass from Quincy Carter to wideout Antonio Bryant. And then Billy Cundiff drilled a 52-yard field goal to tie the game at the end of regulation. It was Cundiff's sixth field goal of the game -- and his seventh, with 5:56 remaining in the overtime period, gave Bill Parcells a most unlikely victory over the team he once coached.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--The Giants' O-line was tattered and torn, and when the game began there were three rookies in starting positions. They were David Diehl at right guard, Wayne Lucier at center and Jeff Roehl at left tackle. It was only the seventh time in NFL history that three rookies started on a team's offensive line.
--FB Jim Finn didn't dress, still hampered by the quad muscle pull he suffered against the Rams in Week 1. He should be available for the next game, Sunday against the Redskins.
--LT Luke Petitgout didn't dress, bothered by back spasms that took him out of the game vs. St. Louis and opened the door for Roehl, an undrafted free-agent rookie who actually didn't do all that badly. But Petitgout will return for the Redskins.
--QB Kerry Collins rebounded from a terrible first half (7-for-21, 100 yards) with a big second half, and finished the game with stats of 21 for 51, 265 yards, three TDs and two interceptions.
--MLB Mike Barrow had 19 tackles to lead both sides, and weak-side LB Dhani Jones was next with 15 plus a 10-yard sack. In fact, the Giants' first five tacklers had more stops than the leading Cowboy, LB Dat Nguyen with six.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We came back and fought really hard but nobody really cares about that if you don't win. What do we take away from this? That it was a game we should have won. This one hurts." -- Giants WR Amani Toomer, on the 35-32 OT loss to the Cowboys.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. COWBOYS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- QB Kerry Collins was pathetic in the first half, spectacular in the second half, and most of the troubles he had early stemmed from a virtually new O-line that had three rookies starting (two for the first time) and the regular center, Chris Bober, out of position at RT. WR Amani Toomer had seven catches for 126 yards and one TD, and moved past Frank Gifford (who was in attendance) as the Giants' all-time receiving yardage leader. TE Jeremy Shockey caught just two passes for eight yards and had two drops, one which would have been a TD.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- In truth, it was virtually non-existent. RB Tiki Barber carried 15 times and gained 41 yards, and except for a 13-yard end around from WR Ike Hilliard, that was the extent of the ground output. Head coach Jim Fassel activated Dorsey Levens but didn't play him. The blocking for the running game wasn't very good, an odd situation since it was better for the pass and that is usually reversed.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Giants allowed Quincy Carter to complete 25 of 40 passes for 321 yards, including 15 of the Cowboys' 24 first downs through the air. WRs Terry Glenn and Antonio Bryant were constantly in the clear for medium-range patterns, and others such as WR Joey Galloway, TE Jason Witten and FB Richie Anderson all caught crucial third-down passes. Carter was sacked four times, but most of those were the result of him scrambling.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- This was better, although Dallas RB Troy Hambrick did break away at all the wrong times for positive yardage. He finished with 23 carries for 60 yards, and more than providing a threat to win the game, he provided an offsetting balance factor for the Cowboys' passing game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Kick coverage continued to be weak, with Zuriel Smith replacing regular return man Reggie Swinton, taking back four punts for 45 yards including an 18 yarder, and five kickoffs for 120, including a 37 yarder. The Giants' special teams were not nearly as productive, as Dallas' Toby Gowin out-punted Jeff Feagles.
COACHING: D -- Head coach Jim Fassel hired an assistant special teams coach, Mike Priefer, specifically to help with clock management. That didn't work, especially when the last kickoff in regulation time went out of bounds. But the overall problem seemed to be the formations called by defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn, who allowed too much cushion in his pass defense and that resulted in far too many middle-range completions.