It was as if Eli Manning had a rabbit in a hat tucked underneath his helmet for much of the New York Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl championship season. Manning had an NFL record seven fourth-quarter comebacks during New York’s 9-7 campaign, including an unforgettable 37-34 Week 14 victory in Dallas when the Giants scored 15 unanswered points in the final 3:14.
The rabbit never reared its head during Wednesday night’s 24-17 Week 1 loss to the Cowboys. And even if it tried, Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware would have gotten it, stuffed it, and sent it back five yards behind the line of scrimmage. If it somehow got loose after that, Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree probably would have undoubtedly caught it.
The Giants became the first defending Super Bowl champions to lose their first game of the following season since 2000 and the sore spots that everyone expected might plague them this year — cornerback and offensive line — were woeful. Ware looked like an unleashed beast throughout the night, recording five tackles and sacking Eli Manning twice. Ogletree looked like Michael Irvin.
“I haven’t seen his stats for the night and I obviously haven’t watched the film yet,” Giants tight end Martellus Bennett said in the locker room after the game. “But DeMarcus Ware is DeMarcus Ware. He’s been dominant since his rookie year. He’s an animal. Anytime you go up against a guy like that, whether it’s an offensive tackle or a tight end, he’s going to win a few times. And he won a few times tonight.”
The offensive line was a concern all summer in New York, as the Giants were bit by the injury bug and appeared to lack depth both at multiple spots. Cornerback was another area of weakness. Aaron Ross left for Jacksonville via free agency, second year man Prince Amukamara is out with a sprained ankle, rookie Jayron Hosley is still a rookie that's wet behind the ears and veteran Terrell Thomas is stashed on the injured reserve with his third knee injury in four years. Journeyman Michael Coe started at cornerback and was picked on from the get go.
When he left the game early in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, veteran Justin Tryon got abused even worse. Tony Romo completed 22 of 29 passes, as fourth-year receiver Kevin Ogletree — a local guy the Giants had in for a free agent workout this offseason — caught eight balls for 114 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Concerns about the offensive line and cornerback position surrounded the Giants all summer, but running back wasn’t supposed to be an issue at all. In fact, the buzz around Big Blue was that their rookie running back, first round pick David Wilson, was a big upgrade from the Brandon Jacobs/D.J. Ware platoon that he was replacing.
Wilson fumbled on his second career carry, putting an end to a promising Giants first quarter drive. He didn’t take another offensive snap the rest of the game.
A somber Wilson sat alone at his locker after the loss, looking a bit dazed after a forgettable NFL debut. He’s dreamed of playing in the NFL his entire life. Two carries, 4 yards, and a fumble wasn’t how those dreams were supposed to play out.
“When you fumble, you want to put it behind you and move forward,” Wilson said. “But I didn’t get another offensive play in. It’s hard to put it behind you when that’s the last play you remember.
“I know I didn’t have much room for error being a rookie, and then to have a critical error like that, like a turnover, you just to live and learn and move forward.”
After being asked about the rumor floating online that he was crying on the sideline after the play, Wilson shook his head. “No. I didn’t cry. I was very, very upset. Didn’t cry.”
Pressed again about the apparent tears, the rookie briefly looked at the ground, and added, “I was highly upset. You know, I was really excited. I was really looking forward to making a big play, but then I fumbled and that was it for me. I was always ready and waiting to go back in, but you kind of get that feeling. Before the fumble, the assistant coach, Charles Way, said, ‘Be Ready. Be Ready.’ But that stopped, so I kind of got the feeling.”
Once the media scrum dissipated, Giants owner John Mara came over to Wilson’s locker, leaned in, put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, and gave the rookie some encouraging words.
“Thank you, sir,” Wilson said with a respectful nod.
The defending champions have 10 days before their Week 2 battle with the Buccaneers. That’s a long time to think about things like missed blocks and fumbled balls.
It’s also just enough time to watch the film, improve upon mistakes, and move on.
It’s a long NFL season. It’ll feel even longer with losses like Wednesday night’s.