Giants, Warner sacked again

<b>TEMPE, Ariz. -</b> Since the day he became coach of the Giants, Tom Coughlin has stressed the importance of dominating the line of scrimmage. A great part of that strategy hinges on protecting the quarterback from pressure that can unravel an offense.

After watching the Giants allow 18 sacks during the three previous weeks, Coughlin put even more emphasis on the importance of his offensive line learning how to deal with pressure. He didn't want a repeat of the game against the Bears, when seven sacks, four from defensive end Alex Brown, led to their defeat.

"We spent the week working hard against pressure packages and then we came out here and looked like we'd never seen the blitz before," Coughlin said.

Instead of making improvement, the problems only intensified against the Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium. After spotting the Giants a 14-3 lead, the Arizona defense, which had only 18 sacks in the first eight weeks, began its assault. And when it was done, end Bertrand Berry had four of the team's six sacks and the Cardinals a 17-14 victory.

"We get complacent, I don't know what else to say," Luke Petitgout said. "I don't know what's happening. The Cardinals were hungrier than us. They beat us physically, which is all you can conclude when they make so many sacks and tackles."

What's clear is the Giants are in trouble because they are unable to give Kurt Warner the time he needs to think and react. After losing two fumbles and throwing two interceptions against the Bears, Warner did his part by completely eliminating the mistakes. But after leading the team on consecutive 80-yard touchdown drives on the first two possessions, he could do little with the small amount of time his line gave him.

"It's very difficult to be the quarterback when you hardly ever get your back foot down [to throw]," Coughlin said.

The Giants were rolling until Cardinals pressure turned the momentum around.

"They didn't do anything we didn't expect," Warner said. "It wasn't anything unorthodox or anything we hadn't prepared for. Again, we just hurt ourselves by not executing well in those situations. We have to be successful in this league. We're going to see it every week until we figure out how to handle it."

Warner had just completed a first-down pass to rookie Jamaar Taylor for 9 yards to the Giants 35 in the second quarter when Berry dropped him for a 6-yard loss. After Tiki Barber got four back, strongside linebacker Karlos Dansby had a 5-yard sack to force a punt.

"We played a little more zone," Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. "When you play zone guys take longer to get open."

The Cardinals took possession on their 32 and immediately moved to three first downs, capping the drive with Emmitt Smith's 2-yard touchdown with 44 seconds to play in the first half.

"Our offensive line is good sometimes, bad most of the time," Barber said. "It puts Kurt at such a disadvantage. He can't make his reads, he can't wait for guys to get open and so he's getting sacked."

Game Notes:

Offensive offense: Over the last two weeks the Giants have proven themselves the best first-quarter team in the NFL, a veritable juggernaut out of the blocks.

But you don't need a math degree or Tom Coughlin's obsessive devotion to figure out that 15 minutes of good football rarely adds up to much.

This is why the Giants season now hangs by the thinnest thread. One week after blowing a two-touchdown lead to the Bears, the Giants squandered an 11-point bulge to the Cardinals and lost at Sun Devil Stadium.

"As poorly as the offense played in the second half, I still felt we had a chance to win had we not penalized ourselves over and over," Coughlin said.

You might want to add one more "over" to Coughlin's lament. The only thing more embarrassing than the six sacks absorbed by Kurt Warner, who has now been dropped 24 times in the last four games, were the 10 penalties for 97 yards that absolutely stymied the Giants.

"I don't know what the reason is," said Tiki Barber, who gained 108 yards and scored a touchdown. "But the penalties are killing us. If we don't have them, we win the game."

The Giants started quick on offense, with two lengthy scoring drives. Then just as suddenly, it was over. After picking up only 15 first downs against the Bears, the Giants had 11 by the time they began their third possession. But they had only eight first downs the rest of the way.

"We owe the defense [which allowed only 178 yards] an apology," Warner said.

Clouded: RB Mike Cloud was inactive because his back injury prevented him from practicing last week. The big surprise was the absence of WR Willie Ponder, the NFL's leading kickoff returner. Coughlin needed Ponder's roster spot for S Curry Burns, who replaced the injured Jack Brewer, the team's top special teams tackler who had surgery to relieve pressure in his leg. The Giants used RB Derrick Ward, in his first NFL game, to return kicks.

Green with envy: Starting WLB Barrett Green was sidelined with his injured knee. Nick Greisen replaced him. OT Greg Walker was activated to protect Luke Petitgout, recovering from a concussion suffered against the Bears. New York's other inactives were LB T.J. Hollowell, OL Marques Sullivan and DT Kenderick Allen. Jesse Palmer was the third QB.

Mr. Smith: Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, gained 67 yards on 19 carries. He surpassed 18,000 career-rushing yards (he now has 18,050) and scored two touchdowns for the first time since Dec. 8, 2002 with the Cowboys. Smith needed 17 yards coming in and got it on a 4-yard gain just before the 2-minute warning in the first half.

Amani style: Amani Toomer led the Giants with eight receptions for 100 yards. He extended his consecutive game streak with at least one reception to 92 on the Giants' first play, a 15-yard completion from Warner.

Medical report: Greisen was temporarily stunned tackling Smith in the third quarter. He was able to walk off the field on his own and soon returned. Toomer had the wind knocked out of him in the fourth quarter on a big hit from safety Adrian Wilson.

Giants desert the desert: New York, which used to be annual visitors to Arizona to face the Cardinals, is not guaranteed a return trip to the Valley of the Sun until the 2008 season. It's possible they could meet in 2006 when the Giants will travel to the NFC West club with the same intraconference position finish.

What's next: The Giants (5-4) host the Falcons (7-2) Sunday at 4:15 p.m. at Giants Stadium.

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