Tom Coughlin's new challenge to Giants is a work in progress

Tom Coughlin erupts at the officials after he Tom Coughlin erupts at the officials after he thought a flag should have been thrown during the Giants' game against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Bob Glauber Newsday columnist Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets and

For all the nice things being said and written about the Giants in the weeks and months leading up to last night's regular-season opener, Tom Coughlin knows that show is over. After a 24-17 loss Wednesday night to the Cowboys, in which the defending Super Bowl champions showed little carryover from their stirring championship run last season, Coughlin summed it up this way:

"Take a bite out of humble pie," he said in response to my question about what his message to the team was after the game. "Brings you right back down to earth. There won't be any more blowing smoke up their rear ends. Last year is last year, this year is this year. Every team is a new team and every year is a new year. We have our work cut out for us."

Coughlin himself had talked so much over the summer about making sure his team kept up the type of performance from the last six games of the 2011 season, when they won them all on the way to hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XLVI. But it became evident early on in what should have been an emotional kickoff to the 2012 season that it wasn't happening. Not on this night.

All the more reason for Coughlin to feel a profound sense of disappointment after he'd worked so hard to drum it into the players' heads about needing to put last year behind. He even came up with a catchy slogan to describe the team's task at hand: "Build the bridge."

The author of "Talk is cheap, play the game" from the 2007 season and "Finish" from last season, Coughlin wanted his team to make the transition from its brilliant late-season play last year to this season. It was Coughlin's theme from his very first meeting of training camp and into Wednesday night's game.

"We started out with a five-minute tape of how our team performed the final six games," Coughlin said about that first meeting in Albany. "That's where we started, where we developed into a good team. So I asked, 'What team are we? Are we a 7-7 team, or are we the team that finished the season?' That's how we presented it, then we challenged ourselves."

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The challenge was to build the bridge from that brilliant stretch of football that delivered the fourth Super Bowl championship in franchise history and have it travel into this season. Coughlin believed his players have latched on to the message, and was sufficiently encouraged by their effort in training camp and the preseason to believe they can continue building the bridge into a challenging regular season that started off with Wednesday night's rivalry game against the Cowboys.

But the coach found out quickly that the construction is still not complete.

There were any number of miscues, starting with the Giants' inability to punch it in from the 1-yard line after Michael Boley's 51-yard interception return of a Tony Romo pass. Two Ahmad Bradshaw rushes and an incompletion to Victor Cruz, and the Giants had to settle for Lawrence Tynes' 22-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

It would be their only lead of the night.

Tony Romo and unheralded receiver Kevin Ogletree connected on two touchdown passes, and Romo and Miles Austin on another to give Dallas the upset win on the road.

The Giants did make a game of it when Eli Manning led a nine-play, 89-yard drive that included a 39-yard completion to Domenik Hixon to the Dallas 10, followed by Bradshaw's touchdown around left end to make it 14-10. But after Romo drove the Cowboys to a field goal on their next drive, he put the game away with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Austin.

Bad way to start the season.

"We're certainly not going to panic, it's way too early for anything like that, and we need to stay even-keeled," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "There's way too much football left to be played."

But Coughlin wanted to see some of their best football Wednesday night. It didn't happen.

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"We have our work cut out for us," Coughlin said. "It's a great challenge for us now. Hopefully our competitive nature will come out."

In the meantime, it's another slice of humble pie for the defending champions.

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