Giants done in by poor officiating

<b>EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - </b>It wasn't just sour grapes. The Giants felt they could have knocked off the Steelers if not for a few very questionable calls by the officials. Sure, New York made its fair share of mistakes in falling three points short of Pittsburgh.

But the Giants, who played lights out offensively and terrible on defense, were done in by two questionable non-calls that went in Pittsburgh's favor, as well as an extremely troubling call on Brent Alexander for supposedly 'roughing' Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger.

"I guess we forgot to send someone a Christmas card over there in the black and white shirts," Shaun O'Hara said.

The most important had to be the non-call on a pretty obvious pass interference call on Amani Toomer, which turned out to be New York's final offensive play. Toomer got tangled up with Steelers CB Willie Williams, who also appeared to give Toomer a little shove before picking off Eli Manning's pass.

"I was going to catch the ball," Toomer said. "I had him beaten and he pushed me in the back. That's a tough way to lose a ballgame, especially since we played so hard."

"I know what the rule says," Tom Coughlin said. "At the last minute the defender's eyes evidently went up to the ball and when two people are looking up for the ball and their feet get tangled, there's no foul. It looked to me like we were going to get the ball and we don't get a chance to get the ball because the guy at the last second looked for the ball."

Coughlin was also upset with the roughing the passer call on Alexander in the second quarter that kept alive a Pittsburgh drive that appeared to have ended when Roethlisberger was sacked on third-and-nine. A host of Giants including Alexander, Carlos Emmons and Fred Robbins converged on Roethlisberger before the referee whistled the play dead. Alexander and Roethlisberger then tumbled to the ground. The Giants safety said he was just trying to prevent Pittsburgh's QB from falling when he was flagged and told by the ref that it was a "dumb, stupid" play.

"I had no idea they even called roughing," Alexander said. "I got up and was going to the sideline. I was just trying to hold him up. I was holding him and then we fell over.

"I in no way was trying to rough him. I was just standing there flat-footed."

"I really have a hard time with that," Coughlin stated.

The other major non-call in question came when Steelers safety Troy Polamalu threw Tiki Barber down well out of bounds after Barber failed to make the marker via a five-yard catch on third-and-18.

Barber admitted he was surprised, "a little bit, but I'll keep my mouth shut because it's not my call to criticize the refs."

Barber sure gave the official who missed the call an earful on his way back to the Giants sideline.

"They got a lot of favorable calls, but we have to find a way to overcome that," Toomer concluded.

Game Notes
Ponder goes all the way: Willie Ponder got the Giants off to a productive start when he returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. It was the second time in three weeks the Giants returned a kickoff for a score; Derrick Ward brought one back 92 yards at Washington on Dec. 5.

"It was perfect blocking," Ponder said. "I followed Ron (Dayne). He led me through and I just hit it and ran. It was a real momentum builder, and I think it set the tone for (the) game. I just wish we could have been victorious."

Ponder's kickoff return touchdown was the 19th in Giants' history, the 17th in the regular season. It was the first time the Giants returned a regular season opening kickoff for a touchdown since Dec. 4, 1966, when Clarence Childs scored on a 90-yard return at Cleveland. Ponder's return marked the first time in franchise history the Giants returned a regular season opening kickoff for a score at home. Ron Dixon returned an opening kickoff for a touchdown at home in a postseason game on Jan. 7, 2001, when he started the game with a 97-yard return against the Philadelphia.

This is the first time in their history the Giants have returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same regular season. Dixon scored twice on kickoff returns in the same postseason. In addition to his touchdown against Philadelphia, Dixon returned a kickoff 97 yards against Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV.

Tiki watch: Tiki Barber rushed for 76 yards to increase his season total to 1,314 and his career total to 6,723. His one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the 39th of his career, tying him with Alex Webster for third on the franchise's career list.

Barber needs 203 yards in New York's final two games to break Joe Morris' single-season rushing record of 1,516 yards, set in 1986. He also trails Rodney Hampton (6,897) by 174 yards to become the Giants' all-time leading rusher in franchise history.

Picked off: Frank Walker's interception of a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the first period ended the Giants' drought after six games and 170 opposing passes without a pick. The Giants had last intercepted a pass on Oct. 31 at Minnesota, when Will Allen grabbed a Daunte Culpepper pass.

Quite a start: David Tyree caught his first pass of the season, a career-long 49-yarder. He had a 48-yard catch last season in Philadelphia.

End zone king: Jeremy Shockey now has six touchdown receptions. The rest of the team has combined for two.

Lousy D: The Steelers gained 469 total yards, the highest total by a Giants opponent in a regulation game since Sept. 10, 2001, when the Denver Broncos gained 473 yards in a 31-20 Monday night victory. Tennessee gained 476 yards in a 32-29 overtime victory on Dec. 1, 2002. The 469 yards was the sixth-highest total allowed by a Coughlin-coached team.

Take the day off: Pittsburgh did not punt, which was the first time in Coughlin's coaching career that an opponent was not forced to punt.

Sorry skid: The Giants' seven-game losing streak is tied for the longest in Coughlin's nine-year career as an NFL head coach. In 1995, his expansion Jacksonville Jaguars lost seven games in a row before winning their season finale against the Cleveland Browns.

Inactives: As usual, most of New York's inactives were injured. S Gibril Wilson (neck), LB Barrett Green (knee), RG Chris Snee (gland), WR Jamaar Taylor (quad), DT Norman Hand (groin) all sat out, while RB/KR Derrick Ward and DT Davern Williams were healthy scratches. Jesse Palmer was the third quarterback.

Next up: The Giants' Christmas gift is a trip to balmy Cincinnati to face the Bengals. Kickoff Sunday is set for 1 p.m. They then return home to face the Cowboys, putting this most unpleasant of seasons officially to bed.

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