ARLINGTON, Texas — Midway through the second quarter Sunday night, Eli Manning was leading the Giants in rushing. This meant Manning either underwent surgery to replace his 37-year-old legs with those of a much younger man or something was dreadfully wrong with the entire offensive operation.
Go with the second theory.
Manning more than 21 minutes into a game he would like to forget had 3 rushing yards, one more than Saquon Barkley, one more than Jonathan Stewart. Was it any surprise the Giants had exactly zero points?
Pointless is an apt way to describe the Giants offense. Pathetic also qualifies. Things were supposed to be different with coach Pat Shurmur calling the plays and a rebuilt offensive line freeing Manning to find gifted Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Saquon Barkley in all sorts of creative and productive ways.
Well, it was an ugly and dispiriting performance inside AT&T Stadium, a total stinker, as the Giants put all kinds of embarrassing moments together in a desultory 20-13 loss to the rival Cowboys, piling onto a nightmarish start to Shurmur’s head-coaching tenure.
The Giants did not admit to any desperation heading into the game and they probably did not dwell on the history of teams losing their first two games. Here is a little lesson: Starting 0-2 is bad. Very bad. How bad? Since 1990, 231 teams started out 0-2 and only 28 — a less-than-robust 12 percent — went on to make the playoffs.
It was a poor debut for Shurmur’s offense in last week’s 20-15 loss to the Jaguars. This was poorer. The Giants were inept when they had the ball in their possession. They did not cross midfield in the first half. They managed only 79 yards in the first half. Manning was sacked four times in the first half. Not-so-shockingly, the Giants had no points in the first half.
What was shocking was how the Giants’ offense devolved into a pop-gun attack, devoid of any big plays. Manning competed 16 of his 20 passes before halftime but for a mere 97 yards. He clearly did not trust his protection — can you blame him? — and unloaded dump-offs, mostly to Barkley, who had eight catches in the half for only 32 yards. The rookie finished with 14 catches that amounted to just 79 yards. It was a strangely quiet night for Beckham, who was targeted four times in the first half and had two receptions for 20 yards. He did not get his third reception until only 4:12 remained in the game.
The Giants on defense hardly dominated, stung early on a 64-yard Dak Prescott to Tavon Austin touchdown. Prescott was barely touched as he was allowed to play inside a comfort zone, steering clear of mistakes, content that his defense would continue to dominate the pathetic Giants offense. Still, pin this one on Manning and Co. — and especially an offensive line that gave up six sacks. Scoring three points — until a meaningless Evan Engram touchdown and a field goal in the final two minutes — is going to get you beat every time.
Shurmur scoffs when “halftime adjustments’’ enters into the conversation, explaining he wears a headset all game and adjustments are made constantly and not saved for halftime. That is all well and good, but something had to change in the second half. Initially, it got worse. The Giants got the ball to start the third quarter and gave it away when linebacker Damien Wilson on a blitz raced past rookie left guard Will Hernandez — who did not seem to notice the rush until it was too late — and slammed into Manning, who lost the ball on a fumble recovered by defensive end Taco Charlton. It was the fifth sack of Manning.
Janoris Jenkins and Austin were teammates with the Rams and Austin burned the Giants’ top cornerback as the smoke was clearing from the pregame festivities. It was that quick. It took only three plays for the Giants to find themselves behind, as Austin beat Jenkins easily off the line of scrimmage, Jenkins stumbled and that was that. Austin caught the ball in stride on the Giants’ 25-yard line and easily coasted past late-arriving safety Curtis Riley to complete a 64-yard touchdown pass play. Just like that, it was 7-0 Cowboys, 94 seconds into the game.
The next time they got the ball, the Cowboys ripped off gains of 12, 19, 15 and 15 yards. This from a team that got little or nothing accomplished last week in Carolina, as far as big plays on offense. The edges of the Giants defense were wide open and the Cowboys with ease finished up a 64-yard drive with a field goal to make it 10-0.
A 37-yard pass to Cody Latimer got the Giants into Dallas territory for the first time — with 9:12 left in the third quarter. The Giants found a way to screw up a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line when tight end Rhett Ellison was called for a holding penalty and Aldrick Rosas’ 28-yard field goal trimmed the Cowboys lead to 13-3 and meant the Giants would not suffer the indignity of a shutout. Ezekiel Elliott plowed past Landon Collins with 5:54 left to give the Cowboys their final points and the Giants could have headed to the busses right then and there.