Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Report Cards

One assumes it's like a guy building his own house. He works on it for a long time, finally thinks he's finished and stands back to view his handiwork.

Uh-oh, there's a little end that doesn't look right. And over there, see

-- an attachment to the under-what's-it-called isn't properly hooked on.

He learns, as do all head coaches, that building a house or a team is an ongoing prospect, a work in progress, and today nobody knows that better than Tom Coughlin, the head coach of the New York Giants.

He brought his Giants team into Dallas for Sunday's showdown against the Cowboys; for the moment, these were the two brightest lights in the NFC East. The Giants had a dynamic offense, and the Cowboys had just displayed some offense of their own by beating the bullies from Philadelphia, the Eagles.

So what happened? It turned into a defensive struggle, not to be confused with great defense; just sloppy offense that resulted in a low-scoring game mixed with turnovers (four by each team) and a less-than-happy ending for the Giants. They lost, 16-13, in overtime, and now have a 3-2 record compared to the Cowboys' 4-2, while the Eagles and the Washington Redskins, the other two teams in the division, are tied with them at 3-2.

"You can't make that many mistakes and expect to win games," said Coughlin. "We didn't do the things we had been doing. It was disappointing to us because we felt we could win this game. Not to take anything away from the Cowboys, who are a strong team and played hard, but we didn't play very well."

The Giants didn't score their first touchdown until there were only 19 seconds remaining in the game, and when they did, they forced the game into overtime.

"I thought we were on the right road then," said tight end Jeremy Shockey, who caught the 24-yard scoring pass from Eli Manning.

But as happens in so many overtime games -- and as the league is attempting to fix the problem -- the Cowboys won the coin toss and the Giants never had the ball again.

"We didn't give ourselves a chance to put points on the board when we had several opportunities," said Coughlin. "We got four turnovers and turned them into just two field goals. That's not good enough."

And neither were the Giants.


--The Giants were virtually helpless in third down situations, converting only one-of-11 attempts. "The Cowboys played very strong defense," said Manning, "and there were times when they guessed pretty good and were right there where we wanted to be."


--WR Plaxico Burress caught five passes for 55 yards, but didn't do as well as he had in the first four games. One reason might be a decision made by Dallas last summer to sign UFA Anthony Henry, a former Cleveland Browns CB who spent four years covering Burress twice a season when the 6-5, 225-pound target was with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the same division.

--RCB Will Peterson missed another game and may miss the rest of the season. He has now had three medical opinions on his lower back, apparently diagnosed as a stress fracture of the transverse process, and all Coughlin would say is that it could be four to six weeks before a final decision is made. Clearly, that's four to six weeks without him on the field, too.

--The Giants reported no serious injuries from the game, although they did have a scare when star RB Tiki Barber came off the field holding his right shoulder. After some treatment on the sideline, however, he came back in and finished the game with 14 carries for 64 yards, emerging as the game's leading rusher.

--WLB Nick Greisen, starting for the second game in a row for the benched Reggie Torbor, played an outstanding game with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery.

--DE Michael Strahan, playing against rookie RT Rob Petitti, had two sacks, six tackles and a fumble recovery. Petitti, from New Jersey, said that for all of Strahan's 13 seasons with the Giants he has been "his biggest fan." The 6-6, 335-pounder now understands why Strahan is a perennial Pro Bowl player.



PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Eli Manning had begun to emerge as one of the bright young QBs in the league, but hit a bump in the road in Dallas. He completed just 14-of-30 attempts for 215 yards, and in addition to the last-second TD that tied the game, he threw only his third interception of the season. The O-line didn't play as well as it has either, allowing Manning to be sacked four times. Mostly at fault, or so it seemed, was center Shaun O'Hara, who had difficulty handling veteran DT La'Roi Glover, who had two sacks and forced a fumble. WR Plaxico Burress was reasonably held in check by CB Anthony Henry, but TE Jeremy Shockey capitalized on shallow crossing patterns to catch five passes for 129 yards. Veteran WR Amani Toomer, as he has been all season, was virtually invisible.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- RB Tiki Barber gained 64 yards in 14 carries and missed part of the third quarter when he hurt his shoulder, although he did return. Rookie RB Brandon Jacobs came in for one play -- with less than two minutes remaining -- and fumbled on the Cowboys' 3-yard line. Reserve RB Derrick Ward had three carries for 15 yards, and the Cowboys did what they had set out to do, which was to hold the Giants' ground game under 100 yards. The O-line blocked well for the run game, especially RT Kareem McKenzie. TE Jeremy Shockey was used less as a blocker than he has been, but he did open two moderate gains for Barber.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Cowboys had a field day passing the ball, as QB Drew Bledsoe completed 26-of-37 attempts for 312 yards. Most of the attack was focused on RCB Curtis Deloatch, starting again for the injured (and probably lost for the season) veteran Will Peterson. WR Keyshawn Johnson caught eight passes for 120 yards, mostly against Deloatch. LCB Will Allen again missed an almost certain interception when the ball went straight through his hands, allowing Johnson to complete a 26-yard gain. The Giants' D-line sacked Bledsoe three times (DE Michael Strahan had two) but it wasn't enough as 16 of the 25 Dallas first downs came on completed passes.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Cowboys, who were without starting RB Julius Jones (high ankle sprain), managed just 92 yards on the ground and did not score a rushing TD. In all, they averaged just 2.4 yards for 38 total rushing attempts. WLB Nick Greisen, MLB Antonio Pierce and SLB Carlos Emmons combined for 23 tackles. There is a distinct possibility that the Giants forced Dallas to have a banner day in the air since they were not allowed to run. SS Gibril Wilson had one of his better games, emerging as the team's co-leader in tackles (with Greisen) with 10 and adding a fumble recovery as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The Giants' kick coverage units were highly effective, limiting the Cowboys to 10 yards in punt returns and holding explosive rookie Tyson Thompson to five KO returns for 100 yards with a long gain of 26. P Jeff Feagles averaged 42.4 yards on five kicks with a net of 40.4. K Jay Feely kept his "no miss" season intact, making two FGs of 50 and 45 yards.

COACHING: C-plus -- For the most part, the team was well prepared, although the offense's performance left much to be desired. It did seem that the passing game was predictable, at least to the Dallas defense, and head coach Tom Coughlin might have committed a major gaffe when he brought rookie RB Brandon Jacobs in with 1:26 left in the game on the Cowboys' 3-yard line. He was cold and hadn't had a single snap -- little wonder that he fumbled the ball away.

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