Sleep would not come for Larry Donnell after the Giants' 31-21 loss to the Cowboys, so the second-year tight end sat alone in a room with the lights off. Thinking. Just thinking about those two plays.
Donnell got home at about 2 a.m. Monday but stayed up until close to 6, unable to get those fumbles out of his mind -- the first at the Giants' 27-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the second in the final minute of the game.
There were tears, just as there had been when he sat on the bench during the game, his face buried in his hands in front of 91,000 fans and millions of television viewers. When you care this much about your craft and invest this much time and energy in those around you, it hurts.
Finally, as dawn approached, Donnell's wife, Delana, woke up to see him still feeling miserable about the turnovers. Especially that first one, which ended a potential drive for the tying score and set up a touchdown that put the Cowboys up 28-14.
Delana smiled, hugged her husband and offered some words of encouragement that finally lifted Donnell's spirits.
"I told my wife I'm just trying to figure out what happened, and she said, 'You know, it's simple. Just hold the ball like you're holding Z,' which is my daughter,'' Donnell said, referring to 4-year-old Zarri. "I thought, that's some pretty good advice.''
Finally able to smile in the face of his personal misery, Donnell got a few hours of sleep before heading to the Giants' training facility for another look at the video and some more soul-searching.
On third-and-8 from the Giants' 19, Donnell caught the ball over the middle and had enough yardage for the first down. But Cowboys linebacker Barry Church forced the fumble and linebacker Justin Durant recovered at the 27. Four plays later, DeMarco Murray scored on a 1-yard run. The other fumble came in the final minute and sealed the 10-point win.
Donnell wasn't the only Giant who made mistakes in the critical NFC East loss in Dallas, but he felt as if he were the one who lost the game.
"We had a chance to tie the game up. I was careless with the ball, and I hurt the team,'' Donnell said.
It wasn't even a month ago when Donnell burst into national prominence with a three-touchdown game in a 45-14 win over Washington. A virtually unknown tight end out of Grambling State, Donnell had made the Giants' practice squad in 2012, played mostly on special teams last year and became a starter this season at a position considered weak.
His breakout performance in Washington set the bar higher -- mostly for himself -- so what happened in Dallas was all the more disappointing. That it happened in front of Donnell's former tight ends coach, Mike Pope, who now coaches the tight ends in Dallas, was even more disappointing. While Pope's latest project, Cowboys second-year tight end Gavin Escobar, had two touchdown catches, Donnell's day ended in failure.
Donnell was so upset that he didn't even seek out Pope after the game to shake his hand. "Coach Pope sent me a text message when we played Washington, but I was so frustrated after the game, I just walked to the locker room,'' Donnell said. "Coach Pope knows I love him, though.''
Donnell also knows from his time with Pope that what happened to him Sunday can prove to be an invaluable lesson. Donnell has vowed it can never happen again. "I let my team down. They're fighting with me, and that stinks,'' he said. "When you care about something so much and you let the guys around you down, it hurts. Especially with the group of guys we have around here. In a big game like that, especially when you have a chance to get some momentum going, get a chance to tie the game, maybe win it, you can't let that happen.''
Next time he'll use the technique his wife suggested.
"It's a good idea,'' he said, smiling at Delana's coaching tip. "That'll help.''