It turned out to be the bridge to nowhere.
The Giants were unable to carry over the spark, the spunk, the swag and the execution that they used to win Super Bowl XLVI. Instead they began their defense of the championship with a lackluster performance marked by giving up big plays, dropping passes -- three of them by Salsa King Victor Cruz -- and a costly turnover by rookie first-round pick David Wilson.
Tom Coughlin stressed his theme of "Build The Bridge" this preseason, hoping to transport the magic of 2011 into the new season. After the 24-17 loss to the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday night, though, his message switched from bridges to baked goods.
"It's 'Take a bite out of humble pie' is basically what it is," Coughlin said of his postgame address to the team. "It brings you right back down to earth. There won't be any more blowing smoke up their rear ends. Last year is last year and this year is this year."
It was the first time since the NFL began starting the season with midweek games that the defending champion lost in the opener. The Giants didn't even have a chance to try the hallmark of the 2011 season, the Eli Manning comeback. They were close, though. They had the Cowboys facing third-and-12 from their own 24 with just more than two minutes remaining. But Tony Romo found Kevin Ogletree, who had scored two touchdowns for the Cowboys, on a slant against backup corner Justin Tryon for a gain of 15 that allowed them to run out the clock on a 24-17 victory.
"That's tough," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "That was just one of the things during the course of the game that we didn't get done."
It was a play and a connection that the Giants had difficulty with throughout the game. "It's like we'd never seen a slant before," Coughlin said.
Part of the trouble was that the cornerback covering the last of them hadn't seen a lot. Justin Tryon, who is basically the Giants' sixth-best cornerback but their healthiest at the moment, was covering Ogletree on that pass that sealed the victory. He was also in coverage when Romo hit Miles Austin for a 34-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 24-10 lead and a two-touchdown cushion with 5:57 remaining.
Tryon replaced Michael Coe, who left the game with a sore hamstring. Coe had replaced Prince Amukamara, who was inactive with a high ankle sprain. And Amukamra had inherited the starting job when Terrell Thomas injured his knee early in training camp.
The Austin touchdown came on a first-and-30 play, not exactly a scoring situation. Romo called an audible and threw a pass toward Austin and Tryon. Austin jumped over Tryon and in front of safety Antrel Rolle to catch the ball at the 16 and run into the end zone untouched.
Tryon wasn't the only cornerback who struggled. Corey Webster, who was supposed to be the bedrock of the secondary, had two bad plays that cost the Giants. He was beaten by Ogletree on his second touchdown, which capped the first drive of the third quarter, looking toward the backfield as the receiver ran past him. He also was beaten on a double move by Dez Bryant for a 38-yard reception that set up Ogletree's first touchdown.
"I was jumping on the first route, he made a good second move and was open," Webster said of Ogletree's touchdown, which gave the Cowboys a 14-3 lead.
"Corey is better than that," Coughlin said. "He'll bounce back."
Speaking of bouncing, perhaps the pivotal play of the game was one in which Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray bopped off two tackle attempts for a 48-yard gain. Justin Tuck earlier in the week called Murray a "ping-pong back" for his ability to bounce all over the place, and he showed it on that run.
It was right after the Giants had scored their first touchdown, a 10-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw, and seemed to be regaining some momentum. On second-and-3 from the Cowboys 27, Murray took a handoff to the right side and was thumped there by Kiwanuka. He bounced off that hit and back toward the center of the field, where Tuck was waiting for him. Tuck tried to tackle him, but Murray stepped out of his grasp.
By the time the rest of the Giants defense spotted him he was sprinting down the right sideline to the Giants' 25.
"He's an explosive back," Tuck said of the momentum-swinging run. "Up until that point we did a good job of keeping him contained . . . One play can change the whole atmosphere of the football game and I think that was a good one in the game."
The Cowboys got as close as first-and-goal at the 9 after that, but a sack by Linval Joseph and a pass for Ogletree in the end zone that was broken up by Coe led to a 33-yard field goal and a 17-10 lead that held through the end of the third quarter.
The Giants offense, meanwhile, was missing opportunities like the defense missed tackles on that play. The biggest one was after Michael Boley's interception in the second quarter that set the Giants up with first-and-goal from the 1. A handoff to Bradshaw was strung out to the sideline for a loss of two, then a handoff right went for a loss of 1. Manning tried to hit Cruz in the end zone on third down, but the pass was incomplete even though the Giants believed that Cruz was interfered with. There was no flag from the replacement officials.
"Obviously I thought I got held, and I guess the refs didn't think so," Cruz said. "I felt like I got grabbed a little bit more than the usual. But you can't have any excuses."
Coughlin was more direct in his assessment of the play.
"He was more than held," Coughlin said. "There's another word for it."
There were three other times that Cruz was open and dropped the ball on his own accord, including once on an early third down. There were no officials to blame for those.
"A couple of them were me leaving too early before I caught the ball," Cruz said. "Just kind of anticipating the play, not concentrating on the football. There's no excuses. I have to make plays when my team needs them the most."
The trouble on Wednesday night was that no one seemed to. In case you care to look at the standings, the Giants already trail the Cowboys by a game in the division and no one else in the league will play for several days.
"The thing that makes it toughest is knowing that going forward there might be a chance we might be looking back on this game like 'ughh!'" Kiwanuka said, grunting future frustrations. "We have to win more games and defend this house better."
Still, it was only the first game. The Giants lost their opener last year and won the Super Bowl. Six years ago they started 0-2 and won a Super Bowl.
"We've been here before," Tuck said. "It's a long season . . . We'll learn from our mistakes. We have a long year of making mistakes and learning from them."