ARLINGTON, Texas -- Eli Manning is so used to throwing his arms in the air in celebration in situations like that, to see him flailing them in frustration while making an unsuccessful attempt to stop a touchdown was shocking to just about everybody.
"I'm on the bench reminiscing about the Super Bowl," Justin Tuck said of his daydreams at the two-minute warning, when the Giants had first-and-10 at their 48 with two timeouts left. That he didn't even have to discern which Super Bowl he was thinking about speaks volumes about his expectations.
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"I think because he's done it so many times in his career," Tuck said of Manning engineering a comeback, "you just feel like he's going to do it every time."
But nothing happens every time. Not comebacks by Eli. And certainly not Giants victories at AT&T Stadium, where they had won their first four visits.
Manning threw a screen pass to running back Da'Rel Scott -- in the game only because starter David Wilson was yanked for his two earlier fumbles -- that doinked off his left hand and into the arms of Brandon Carr. The cornerback returned it 49 yards for a touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 12-point lead with 1:50 left in their 36-31 win in Sunday night's regular-season opener.
The Giants nearly were able to overcome five turnovers in the game, including three on their first three possessions, but the last one buried them. "It was just a bad break," Manning said.
The game was filled with them for the Giants, whose six turnovers, the most they've had in the last 25 years, set up 23 Dallas points. It was only the second time under Tom Coughlin that they reached six giveaways. Their first three possessions ended on turnovers, making them the first team to begin a season so ineptly since the 2005 Vikings.
"I'm totally disappointed and embarrassed by that kind of football," Coughlin said. "That's sloppy, sloppy football."
And yet the Giants had their chance. After Manning hit Victor Cruz for their third TD connection of the game, a 10-yarder that made the score 30-24 with 8:47 left, and the Giants forced a pair of punts, they had the ball at their 17 with 2:41 left.
Manning hit Rueben Randle for 25 yards on third-and-5 to bring the Giants to the two-minute warning, but that was as close as they could get. They scored a near-meaningless touchdown on a 4-yard pass from Manning to Brandon Myers with 11 seconds left, but the Cowboys recovered the Giants' onside kick.
Wilson, who was in position to assume the mantle of starting running back, lost his coach's trust when he coughed up a second fumble on the second play of the second half. Barry Church scooped it up and scored on a 27-yard return to make it 20-10.
"They're not going to play unless they can hang on to the ball," Coughlin said. "It's demoralizing to the whole team."
Wilson had other difficulties too, such as his run for no gain on first-and-goal from the 1 after Ryan Mundy's 91-yard interception return in the first half, and his missed block on the following play, which resulted in a sack. It was as if all of the concerns posed about Wilson in the offseason decided to come alive at once.
Wilson said on numerous occasions this preseason that his fumbling issue no longer was a problem. But like his night at running back, the plug was pulled quickly on his postgame interview.
"I'm just going to keep working hard," he said. "I'm at the bottom now, so there's nowhere to go but up from here. That's really all I've got."
And right now he's all the Giants have. They are likely to bring in a veteran back this week. Ideally, that veteran would have been used to replace Andre Brown, on short-term injured reserve, as the backup. Now they might have an opening in the starting lineup.
Last year Wilson fumbled in the opener against the Cowboys and was relegated to the bench for most of the season. This year that's not an option. "He's got to play," Coughlin said. "He's a very talented young man, but as I said, you just can't do that. Every time they touch you, you're going to turn the ball over?"
Still, after all of the mistakes, all of the flubs, all of the ugly football that Coughlin bemoaned as some of the worst he'd seen in his time with the Giants, they had the ball and time to win the game. But there also was time for one final gaffe to doom them.
"You put [Manning] in that situation and nine out of 10 times he's going to figure out a way to get us some points," Tuck said. "That was that one out of 10."