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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Giants filled with remorse after loss to Cowboys

Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on during the

Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys. (Nov. 24, 2013) Credit: Mike Stobe

The regrets were everywhere. So many reasons, so few answers.

Off in one corner of the Giants' locker room, cornerback Prince Amukamara stared into space, shaking his head at the play that kept eating at him.

"Third and 11,'' he muttered about Tony Romo's 15-yard completion to Cole Beasley at the Giants' 15. "We just had to execute that one play at that moment. We make that play, we get off the field.''

A few lockers away, wide receiver Victor Cruz lamented his own critical mistake, a lost fumble -- only the second of his career -- that produced a 50-yard touchdown return in the first quarter.

"I was just trying to make a play,'' Cruz said.

Across the room, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka second-guessed two crushing personal-foul penalties, one that negated a fumble recovery by the Giants and instead led to a Cowboys touchdown.

"I have to be conscious of the way the game is called now,'' Kiwanuka said of his roughing-the-passer penalty in the third quarter. "I have to be conscious of the way the game is [officiated] now.''

Eli Manning's regret? Not doing any better than two field goals in the first half, further evidence of the Giants' red-zone woes. "We had an opportunity to get some touchdowns,'' he said, "but we didn't execute well enough down there.''

So many different recollections of where it went wrong, so many missed opportunities for a Giants season that was hanging by a thread entering the game and is close to being over.

The Giants gave meaning to the game against the Cowboys with a four-game winning streak that followed a stunning 0-6 start. But after a crushing 24-21 loss capped by Dan Bailey's 35-yard field goal with no time left on the clock, the Giants' hopes are barely alive.

Two games behind the Eagles and Cowboys with five games to play, the Giants probably need to run the table to even have a chance to earn a playoff berth. And even that might not be good enough at this point.

After a month's worth of facing mediocre quarterbacks to reel off a four-game winning streak, the Giants couldn't handle the step up in quality. Tony Romo solved the defense with 250 yards, two touchdowns and the winning drive at the end.

The Giants rallied gamely from a 21-6 deficit, tying it at 21-21 with a 58-yard touchdown drive and a two-point conversion with 4:45 to play.

But the defense, which had been superb in limiting the Cowboys to one third-down conversion, finally succumbed. Romo drove the Cowboys from their 20 to the Giants' 16, converting three third downs in the process and setting up Bailey's kick.

The Giants offered plenty of reasonable explanations, but none of them could erase the anguish of their situation. The bill came due for the hole they dug themselves early in the season, and they left themselves almost no margin for error. They knew each loss would have dire consequences, and they knew beating Dallas was imperative.

Jason Pierre-Paul called it the Giants' Super Bowl, a game of such magnitude that it was win-or-else. Justin Tuck suggested early in the week that "instead of us digging ourselves out of a hole, it's more like them putting dirt on us'' if the Giants lost. The Cowboys did just that, shaking off their own identity crisis by playing some of their most inspired football of the season to tie the Eagles for first place.

Perhaps Terrell Thomas will use his guarantees more judiciously moving forward, as his vow that the Giants would win the game turned out wrong. Instead, he was left to lament the moment he might have saved the day. As Dez Bryant's fourth-quarter fumble skittered up the field near the right sideline, Thomas couldn't recover it before the ball went out of bounds.

"My mind-set was to jump on it, and I kind of pushed it forward,'' he said. "Looking back, I probably could have scooped it. I'm beating myself up over it. That one could have been a game-changer, and I let that one go.''

He wasn't alone. In a locker room filled with remorse, Thomas had plenty of company about missed opportunities. Put them all together, and the Giants' season is on the brink.

If not over the cliff.

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