EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants finally faced a good quarterback again Sunday, and they came up short.
It wasn't a terrible defensive performance, but it wasn't nearly good enough. The Giants gave up a long touchdown drive in the second quarter, and another one in the third that included two critical penalties. And when the offense scored 15 unanswered points to tie the game at 21 in the fourth quarter, the defense let the Cowboys march right down the field for a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
"We didn’t do our job," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We didn’t do it good enough. They wound up winning the game. They were a better team than us."
The third-quarter drive was particularly painful. Trailing 14-6, the Giants appeared to have forced a turnover, when Cowboys wideout Cole Beasley fumbled and the ball was recovered by safety Will Hill. But defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka was flagged for roughing the passer, negating the fumble.
Kiwanuka clearly did not agree with the call, but did not directly criticize the officials after the game. "That’s how they're officiating the game obviously these days," he said. "As defenders, as guys who’ve been around the league for a while, we’ve seen the change, we have to be able to make that adjustment. But that’s tough. I felt like I pulled off on him, but the ref saw it a different way."
On the very next play, safety Antrel Rolle picked up another 15-yard penalty, for unnecessary roughness. That placed the ball on the Giants' 6-yard line. Three plays later, the Cowboys led 21-6.
The normally mild-mannered Kiwanuka also drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty later in the third quarter, although the Cowboys did not score on that drive.
"It was definitely a lack of self-control," Kiwanuka said. "It hurt the team, and I gotta give credit to these guys. They had my back, and we went out there and got a stop."
"The one thing that I think we can learn from this is, the bigger the game, the more you have to control yourself, more poise," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We lost it a couple of times, and it cost us."
On the game-winning drive, starting cornerback Trumaine McBride was unavailable after aggravating a groin injury. Rolle was forced to move over to cornerback -- something he's done in the past, but not in recent weeks.
"I can’t say that I was at my best with my craft, with my press technique," Rolle said. "Certain times I think I was a little too antsy in my press technique, being that I haven’t really been working down there for the last five, six weeks. ... (But) there’s no excuses. You gotta make the plays."
Tony Romo seemed to pick on Rolle as he marched the Cowboys from their own 20-yard line to the Giants' 16 over the final four minutes and change. The Dallas quarterback completed six of nine passes on that drive for 67 yards, including three passes to star wideout Dez Bryant.
"You gotta take your hat off to them," Rolle said. "I think Tony made some exceptional throws, and I think more importantly, Dez did a great job of holding onto the ball even when I was punching at it."
The Giants heard all week long that they still had something to prove. That shutting down the likes of Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, a banged-up Terrelle Pryor and Scott Tolzien wasn't all that impressive. That they needed to stop a top-shelf NFL quarterback.
They certainly slowed down Romo. The Giants had four sacks, one interception, and held the Cowboys to 17 points. (The other seven were scored by the Dallas defense.)
But that wasn't good enough.
"That’s the part that’s gonna sting, because we had an opportunity," Kiwanuka said. "The offense went out there and did their job and put it in our hands, and we didn’t get it done."