New York turned the ball over three times, committed 10 penalties and basically came up well short when it mattered as the Giants dropped to 2-2 on the year, falling in Sun Devil Stadium for the first time in three years.
"It's a team loss," Head Coach Jim Fassel blurted. "I'm the head coach. I take the loss. Nobody gets it in their column. I do. I'm responsible."
Partially? Yes. Entirely? Certainly not.
Fassel's decision-making wasn't the only reason New York fell on Sunday, when the coach's call to go for points right before halftime led to seven for Arizona instead.
New York's offense – after storming down the field and scoring on its first possession – couldn't do anything after that.
"Our whole offense is to blame for the whole game, okay?" Fassel snapped. "We've got the best group we've ever had. Seven points is not good enough. Our offense is not scoring enough points for us to win."
Big Blue totaled only 263 total yards. QB Kerry Collins was intercepted twice and the running game continued to struggle, gaining only 67 yards on the ground.
"It's a number of things," said WR Ike Hilliard, who caught four passes for 56 yards. "This was another week where we came out and started well then we don't have that consistency. We have to get better and put more points on the board."
"You can't come on the road and win games like that," added Collins, who finished 19-of-36 for 199 yards and the two picks.
The Giants defense was much better than its offensive counterparts, but did allow backup Cards RB Marcel Shipp to rumble for 92 yards on only 17 carries. The Paterson, N.J. native also burned Big Blue for two touchdowns.
Also, with the game on the line in the late stages, Big Blue's defense allowed the Cards to run out the clock, while QB Jake Plummer (23-of-32, 168 yards) picked them apart on third down.
Arizona's third-down success was a thorn in New York's side all afternoon, as the Cards converted 10-of-17 third downs, a 59 percent success rate.
After the game, Fassel had no problem fingering his players, his staff and himself, but wanted to stay away from criticizing the officiating, a quick and surefire way to lighten one's wallet.
"I'm not going to go into the officiating," said Fassel of Mike Carey's crew, which penalized the New Yorkers for a total of 110 yards.
The lead culprits were the previously outstanding offensive line, which was flagged five times, including a hat trick turned in by starting RT Mike Rosenthal, although one of those infractions was declined.
However, things certainly started well for New York. The Giants ended Arizona's first drive when Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes shared a sack of Plummer.
New York then finally broke its red-zone doldrums on its first possession of the contest. Big Blue drove 46 yards and got a six-yard TD run by Barber to jump out to a 7-0 lead. Barber took the handoff, beat a tackle attempt at the line of scrimmage and bulled over Cards DB Adrian Wilson for the points. Earlier in the drive, Collins connected with rookie TE Jeremy Shockey for 19 yards to convert a second-and-18.
Coming into the contest, Big Blue was 31st in the league inside the opponents' 20-yard line with only one TD in 10 red-zone trips.
"We started off aggressively, came off the ball, got in the red zone and scored," said Barber, who finished with 55 rushing and 48 receiving yards. "The problem was we couldn't get back in the red zone."
"I thought it was going to be a good offensive day," WR Amani Toomer (four catches, 32 yards) said. "But we didn't do what we needed to do."
Collins wasn't as fortunate on New York's next possession. After New York streaked 44 yards in three plays, Collins, under heavy pressure from Cards DT Marcus Bell, overthrew Shockey and was picked off by Cards CB David Barrett.
"I never really got into a rhythm today," Collins said. "I was not good, sporadic."
Arizona started moving the ball on New York early in the second quarter, but the defense rose up and stuffed Shipp on a fourth-and-two run from New York's 35-yard line. After Arizona marched 47 yards, MLB Micheal Barrow allowed the Cards reserve back, who was playing often in place of injured starter Thomas Jones, just one yard.
The Giants appeared to be heading into halftime with a 7-0 lead…until some foolish play-calling by Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton and an even worse decision by Collins. As the first half was coming to a close, Cards K Bill Gramatica missed a 42-yard field goal wide right and the Giants took over.
With 14 seconds left in the half, Collins tried to find Barber on a short out pattern to the right side. Cards S Justin Lucas stepped in front of the ball and returned it 38 yards for the game-tying touchdown with four seconds remaining. A diving Lucas barely beat a late tackle attempt by Collins and hit the inside of the pylon with the ball for the score.
"We needed to get something going offensively," Fassel said.
No, at that point, from their own 32, the Giants needed to either take a knee and run out the clock, or throw deep. A short, dangerous pass in that situation was foolish on all counts. And they would pay dearly for it.
Arizona carried that momentum into the third quarter. Barber took a short Collins pass and coughed up the ball, New York's first lost fumble of the season. After Barber's 10-yard gain, Cards DT Barron Tanner punched the ball free. Shockey, already on the ground, was unable to cradle the pigskin and Cards S Kwamie Lassiter fell on it at the Arizona 46-yard line.
The New York mistakes continued late in the third quarter. On third down, Collins was tracked down and sacked by Cards DT Kyle Vanden Bosch. Then on fourth down, Bob Jones's snap to punter Matt Allen sailed off line. Allen took the ball and attempted to gain the necessary 15 yards for the first before being pushed out of bounds at the New York 40, five yards short of the marker.
"No, that was not a fake punt," Fassel said. "It was a bad snap to the left. [Allen] had time to square up and kick it but he didn't."
But Big Blue grabbed the ball right back when Plummer couldn't handle the snap and LB Kevin Lewis pounced on the loose ball.
The Giants blew a golden opportunity to take the lead on the final play of the third period. Collins dropped back to pass and threw deep to third WR Ron Dixon. Dixon leapt and out-jumped Cards CB Renaldo Hill for the ball. After gathering in Collins' pass, Dixon took off toward the end zone for a 76-yard TD and an apparent lead. However, Rosenthal was flagged for holding and the Giants were denied yet again.
Not so for Arizona, which took the ball 67 yards in eight plays – and one huge penalty – for a 14-7 lead with 10:36 to play.
On third-and-10 from the Arizona 33, Strahan was called for roughing Plummer after hitting him headfirst.
"My penalty was stupid on my part," Strahan said. "That was one play and just another opportunity that we gave them."
That penalty kept the Cards' drive alive, and Shipp did most of the work from there. He gained 25 yards down the left sideline and then caught a seven-yard TD in front of WLB Dhani Jones. Plummer scrambled away from New York's defense, sidestepping rookie DT Matt Mitrione in the process, before finding Shipp in the left side of the end zone.
A 31-yard kickoff return by rookie Daryl Jones and a 22-yard Hilliard catch gave the Giants hope, but they were unable to cash in.
Then Arizona took over and didn't give the ball up until they had run off more than six of the contest's final eight minutes and scored the game-sealing TD.
Plummer converted a third-and-seven with a 16-yard pass to WR Frank Sanders and a third-and-six with a 23-yarder to TE Freddie Jones.
Shipp did the rest, bolting for 13 yards on third-and-six from the New York 28, then ripping off a 10-yard TD run on third-and-five against a helpless Giants defense.
After the game, Cardinals Head Coach Dave McGinnis ran around the Sun Devil Stadium bleachers slapping hands with the Cardinals fans. Fassel and the Giants just left the field wondering ‘what if?'