It was a tale of two halves for the Giants, who led Dallas 13-7 at halftime and seemed to have the Cowboys offense in check…until the break, after which Dallas scored on three straight possessions and left Big Blue down 28-13 after two turnovers on downs and a punt.
“I think we played pretty sharp the first half. We executed well. The second half, I think we just didn't play complementary football,” Julian Love said. “All three phases have got to be better. Penalties killed us. That's something we have to clean up. I thought we played hard, and we played physical. That's the story of it."
The Giants’ defense had two takeaways in the first half, with Rodarius Williams snagging his first career INT on the drive after the Giants took a 3-0 lead, and Love getting a rebound pick in the red zone with two minutes left to stop a drive and help Big Blue get three more before the break.
“Plays like that are huge, and we played clean,” Love said. “But in the second half, I think we had some opportunities especially on third down but then penalties gave them another shot at it. That's so tough. They got some free first downs off of penalties. Field position and penalties are just tough to overcome, especially those down the field penalties when we had stops. So, that's what we have to clean up.”
Indeed, Dallas scored on their first three drives of the second half, the first a 77-yard drive where Dallas converted three third downs and got new life on a fourth when Darnay Holmes was called for defensive holding that nullified what would’ve been a Dallas punt from their own 37.
That was Holmes’ second five-yard penalty of the day that kept a drive alive, and he was also called for a pass interference on the next drive, but it was declined, because CeeDee Lamb made a ridiculous one-handed catch on the ball.
“He's a good player obviously. He was able to draw some pretty crucial penalties today,” Love said of Lamb. “I still think we had a good game plan going into it. Now, it's just about executing the little details of it. It was complementary football for them. They have a good run game and a good passing game. Today, he was the main part of their passing game."
“They are professionals, too. You have to take that mindset of, certain things you can't get mad about,” Holmes added. “Certain things can't waiver your confidence or your belief in yourself. That's just what it was today."
Of course, Holmes didn’t agree with the pass interference call, but it is what it is.
“At the end of the day, the refs call what they call. You have to just deal with it,” he said. “I know what's right. The ref called what he called and probably the optics of things, that's what he saw. He gets paid to call calls and that's just what it was."
Lamb was going to be a tough matchup regardless of who was in the Giants’ secondary, and facing mostly Holmes and Love instead of the injured Adoree’ Jackson, he got six grabs for 106 yards, including the pass interference-aided one.
“Since college, it's always been a great competitive battle for me and him,” said Holmes, who faced Lamb once in college (Lamb’s Oklahoma team crushed Holmes’ UCLA squad in 2019) and now multiple times in the NFL. “He's a great player. I'm a great player. At the end of the day, that's the way it goes. Each and every year, I am always excited for that battle. I'm never going to turn down, keep my head up. That's just what it is."
“(Lamb is) certainly a good player, so I think you miss all of your good players that aren't out there,” head coach Brian Daboll added of the matchup and the loss of Jackson. “But I thought that guys competed that were in there. It was a tough game. That team's got a lot of good receivers and they made some good plays, and I think that we were trying to mix it up and double certain guys. Give them credit; our guys competed, but they made some good plays.”
The other thing that Love had mentioned, and which loomed large in the end, were those penalties, the last of which saw Rodarius Williams called for DPI on Lamb on a third-and-8 from the Dallas 39 with a little over three minutes left; the Cowboys missed a field goal in the end, but they took an extra two minutes off the clock and forced the Giants to start a lot further back than they would have on their final drive.
“I think there were a few penalties that we want back, but you can't really be mad at the calls that are made,” said Kayvon Thibodeaux. “You just have to keep playing."
And, to use Holmes’ words: at the end of the day, it just wasn’t good enough.
“We started out, I thought it was a good first half and we just didn't get much going in the second half,” Daboll said. “And then they had the long drive, we didn't convert on fourth down, they ended up getting some more. The guys competed, we just didn't do enough.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN