Giants scary in the dark ... and light

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As it turned out, the New York Giants were granted no sanctuary under the cover of darkness. On the night the lights went out off Broadway, the home team still managed to expose itself as a contender with a fickle heart and a fragile resolve.

Sure, the Giants had a season's worth of excuses to reach for if they were so inclined. They were missing Steve Smith and two-fifths of their offensive line. They had won five in a row, and human nature being what it is, they were due to finish on the wrong end of one of those any-given-Sundays.

They had something of a ragged week of practice, thanks to the long flight back from Seattle, and they had the great misfortune of facing Jason Garrett's Dallas Cowboys instead of Wade Phillips' Dallas Cowboys.

Of course, they also had to endure two power outages in the New Meadowlands Stadium, the first a flicker and a flash, the second the full Monty.

Who or what could explain this wretched home loss to a 1-7 team? Someone or something had to be responsible for Cowboys 33, Giants 20, right?

"If I'd have known it would've ended like this," Giants owner John Mara said, "I would've kept the lights off."

At 6 p.m., after a transformer blew in the substation feeding power to the stadium, several lighting banks went dark in the night sky. Play resumed in the third quarter, with the lighting no better than you'd find at your average Friday night high school game, and Felix Jones caught a short pass and raced through the shadows like a galloping ghost.

"He was going to score lights on, lights off, it didn't matter," Antrel Rolle said.

This strange game would take a sharp turn toward the bizarre and dangerous. Suddenly the stadium plunged into complete darkness, a development that would have tickled an anarchist's heart. The shocked masses roared, and for five or six eternal seconds the only light in the house was provided by the flashing cell cameras in the crowd.

Eli Manning huddled close with his teammates, he said, just to "make sure no cheap shots or anything get thrown out there." Only the Cowboys didn't need to pummel the Giants when nobody could see.

They were doing it in plain sight before more than 80,000 witnesses.

"They definitely just had our number," Rolle said. "They were the better team all the way around."

Truth is, that says a ton more about the Giants than it does the Cowboys.

Yes, Dallas entered this game liberated from the death grip of Phillips, who spent the first eight weeks of the season all but wearing a "Kick Me" sign on his forehead. And yes, most battered professional sports teams are reinvigorated by a coaching change. Firing a hopeless head coach is much like chugging one of those super-caffeinated energy drinks.

But still, the Cowboys are a bad team with a bad quarterback. Jon Kitna hadn't won a game since 2007, and that violent Giants pass rush was expected to give him the Tony Romo treatment and then some.

It never happened. Out of the clear blue, the Giants turned Jon Kitna into John Unitas, allowing him to turn a mere 13 completions into a staggering 327 yards and three touchdowns.

Tom Coughlin's pass-rushers couldn't get to Kitna, and his pass defenders couldn't cover Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and the rest. "We didn't play well enough to win," Coughlin said. "But there's no excuse, there really isn't."

In his postgame news conference, Coughlin didn't look or sound as angry as he sometimes does after divisional defeats. In fact, he came across as a 6-3 coach who saw this one coming.

Eli Manning actually had more of an edge to his own news conference voice. After he threw two interceptions, including one returned 101 yards for a touchdown by Bryan McCann, Manning wasn't finding any solace in his 373 passing yards.

He hinted that Hakeem Nicks broke off a route on McCann's killer pick, and mentioned "the drops here or there" among the "things that kill you." Manning also spoke of receivers "running routes too short on third-and-7, running routes too long when it is not there."

Not exactly Randy Moss unplugged at the mike, but then again, pointed remarks from a quarterback who keeps them in short supply.

"We have some new receivers in there, they did a lot of really good things," Manning said. "But we have to clean some stuff up."

The Giants are supposed to be an honest-to-god Super Bowl contender, just like the Jets. They're supposed to have a defense and a pass rush right out of their 2007 postseason playbook. They're supposed to have a quarterback who is closing the considerable gap on big brother Peyton. They're supposed to have a receiver in Nicks who might develop into the kind of target Plaxico Burress only wished he could be.

But Sunday, after the transformer blew on tens of thousands of fans, the Giants never fully restored power. By losing decisively to Dallas they reduced the significance of their five-game winning streak, a streak littered with lightweights, and added three degrees of urgency to their next date in Philly.

So no, the Giants and their fans shouldn't have been afraid of the dark Sunday. They should've been afraid of what they saw when the lights were turned on.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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