Big trouble in Big D

IRVING, Tex. – For one team, there was the familiar signs of joy and celebration, a Gatorade bath for the head coach, a cheering capacity crowd and the sights and sounds of a bright future.

That team was the Cowboys.

For the other team, there were the familiar sights and sounds of losing. Mounting frustration playing for a coach on his way out the door as the players around him struggle to get much of anything right.

That team, if you haven't suspected as much, would be the Giants.

As Bill Parcells was doused and Texas Stadium erupted in full-celebration mode, the Giants were left to watch and learn.

Of course, they lost again, this time getting closer on the scoreboard but in reality, not really close at all in a 19-3 defeat that allowed the Cowboys to waltz to their first playoff berth in four years.

By now, after seven consecutive losses (by a combined 182-54), after Jim Fassel this week was officially stamped 'lame duck,' the Giants have grown accustomed to failure. Numbness replaced hurt long ago. All there is left is to look ahead and hope that a coaching change brings better times.

"We're going to have our time, the Giants are going to be back,'' receiver Amani Toomer said. "It's just not our time this year. You accept that and move on.''

It's a strange time for the Giants (4-11), who assembled in their locker room Monday at Giants Stadium while GM Ernie Accorsi and John Mara, the team's executive vice president, traveled to interview Tom Coughlin, a strong candidate to replace Fassel. Last Tuesday, Fassel implored Mara to finally publicly admit what everyone had known for more than a month – that he was going to be fired at season's end. The Giants, depleted by a ridiculous number of injuries, took the field knowing their coach was history.

Fassel said he "didn't even think about it'' once during the game and the unusual dynamic did not change the outcome or the Giants demeanor one bit.

"I've had some good times with Jim, I'm going to miss him,'' running back Tiki Barber said. "I go out and give my best every week for him, if I could for the rest of my career I would. It's unfortunately not going to happen.''

Helpless to mount any serious threat, the Giants actually found some solace in improving on last week's 45-7 embarrassment in New Orleans. Their defense – led by Michael Strahan's three sacks – limited the conservative Cowboys (10-5) to a first-quarter touchdown and four Billy Cundiff field goals. On offense, the Giants did not commit a turnover but accomplished little of note.

"You're not going to come in here, if they win they go to the playoffs, and find them asleep at the wheel,'' Fassel said of the Cowboys. "I thought our guys gave great effort.'' But they certainly didn't play great.

Jesse Palmer, making his second start at quarterback in place of Kerry Collins, dumped the ball off, misfired on two deep throws to Amani Toomer that deflected off the back and helmet of safety Darren Woodson and directed a lame attack that generated 213 yards and a Matt Bryant first-quarter field goal.

"I thought our guys had the right attitude, they went out, they tried, some things we weren't very good at,'' an emotionless Fassel said. "Just not good enough to win.''

It wasn't good enough to win for the seventh straight week, a prolonged stretch of failure that cost Fassel his job.

"We're out there playing hard and whatever happens is going to happen,'' Toomer said. "We know we have some areas where we're trying different people out in different things. You can't get frustrated.''

Tight end Jason Witten beat safety Johnnie Harris like a drum on a 36-yard scoring pass late in the first quarter for the game's lone touchdown, making it 10-3. From there, the Cowboys kept things simple, sensing the Giants pop-gun attack wasn't able to mount much of a threat. Safety Roy Williams slammed Toomer in the mouth, David Tyree dropped a short pass that would have given the Giants a first down and late in the third quarter, Palmer on fourth down from the Dallas 12-yard line ran right, found Williams in his tracks and was dropped for a five-yard loss.

"We didn't let anyone walk over us,'' center Chris Bober said. "I think we were a couple of plays from winning, it wasn't like the last couple of weeks where there's no chance.''

Said running back Tiki Barber, "It's tough when you're on a team that is struggling like we are not to have a defeatist mentality where we just wait for something bad to happen and as soon as it does everyone caves in. That didn't happen to us.''

The Giants close out this miserable season against the Panthers.

"For us it's just an audition,'' Barber said of the current state of affairs. "Everyone is playing for next year, to show we belong. It's not fun.''

With 22 seconds left, quarterback Quincy Carter and fullback Richie Anderson gave Parcells the Gatorade shower, a celebration ritual spawned in the halcyon days with the Giants.

Good times are here for the Cowboys in Parcells' first year in Dallas. The Giants can only hope for better days ahead.

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