If there was a sequence of events in the Dallas Cowboys loss to the New York Giants that was a clear demonstration that this is not the struggling team it was last year in Tony Romo’s absence, it was the first four minutes of the second half. After being unable to stop the Giants on their final two possessions of the first half, they needed to make a stand. And after being masterful before halftime, Eli Manning had one of those moments that just seem to happen to him at times. He threw a ball at Sterling Shepard, who was perfectly covered by Brandon Carr. The ball hit Carr right in the stomach, and he bobbled it for a moment, but hauled it in. Then, after the Giants had kept Ezekiel Elliott bottled up the first half, he finally got going a bit, and the Cowboys retook the lead at 16-13 on his eight yard touchdown run - the first, hopefully, of many.
However, the big struggles for the Cowboys all day were finishing drives and letting the Giants make too many plays on offense. Manning had his mistake, but he was very sharp for the rest of the game. Dallas had an overwhelming advantage in time of possession, but the Giants countered by moving down the field in chunks. And they never settled for field goals, scoring touchdowns all three times they got close to the end zone. The Dallas defense would have a good stand, then get sliced up by Manning and a very effective New York rushing game.
It would come down to whether Prescott could get the Cowboys back into range for Dan Bailey with 6:13 left in the game. He was starting to lose some accuracy as the game went on. And it would wind up costing, as the drive stalled after one first down and a holding call.
They got one more chance with just over a minute left, but failed as Terrance Williams failed to get out of bounds to give them a chance at a very long field goal. It just too little too late.
Benson Mayowa would get the first sack of the day for either team. Manning usually gets the ball out quickly, but this sack looked to be due to coverage that left him with no place to go. And, though the Cowboys could do nothing with really good field position, the defense again forced a punt on the next series, and it looked like they were getting some pressure.
For Dak Prescott, it was neither the dominating performance many wanted nor the sudden crash to reality that some predicted for the rookie in his first real NFL game. He was able to convert many third downs in the game, and stayed cool and collected in the pocket (helped by generally excellent protection). However, he clearly had some favorite targets, as he continuously looked for Cole Beasley and Jason Witten. His only problem was in the red zone, and it has to be admitted that Beasley and Dez Bryant both failed to handle passes that would have been touchdowns, forcing the Cowboys to settle for 3 on both occasions when they could have had 7. Prescott’s performance will probably stop the silly talk about him challenging Romo to be the starter when Romo returns, but it also should give fans a good bit of hope that Dallas can compete this year. There were some errant throws, but make no mistake: He was far, far better than any of the quarterbacks in 2015 - and that includes Romo, who never really looked right, even before the first time he broke his collarbone. However, as the game progressed, Prescott seemed to be making less accurate throws, putting the ball too high for Beasley, who is of course the shortest receiver on the team.
For Ezekiel Elliott, it was not the dazzling debut most rather expected. The Giants defense was keyed in on him and determined to not let him beat them. He averaged under three yards a carry. But what he did do repeatedly was convert short yardage situations, getting the one or two yards the team had to have. Given the frequent failures in short yardage situations last season, that is encouraging.
Alfred Morris was actually more effective, getting the longest run of the day and averaging five yards a carry.
The defense was much like it was last year, getting some good stops but then giving up big plays, both through the air and on the ground. The Giants were very effective offensively, especially in the running game, where the Cowboys could not stop them as time was running out. The Giants just kept running the ball up the middle. As we all feared, the front seven for Dallas was just not up to the task. However, the Giants did not have much more to show from their nine figure investment in defensive free agents. They did not get a sack on Prescott, and only notched three hits.
But what made the difference was the failure by the Cowboys to score touchdowns when they were in the Red Zone, another problem we are familiar with. Still, it must be remembered that this was the first game for Prescott, and real NFL games are different than preseason. Elliott was stymied by a defense that was not going to let him beat them. Dallas’ defense was not strong enough to make the difference, but the loss cannot be blamed on them. They held the Giants to 20 points, and that would have been enough - if only Dallas could have made one more touchdown when they had the chance.