By Brad Carroll
Three plays in the fourth quarter, two of which came back-to-back, had the New York Giants going from completing a momentum-building victory to another horrible loss to start the season. Leading 14-13 early in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, the Giants allowed a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown to lose the lead. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Quintin Demps fumbled and the Cardinals recovered, turning that into three points and an eight-point lead.
The two-play meltdown on special teams completely changed the complexion of the game, and possibly season, in a matter of moments. But the Giants still trailed by eight points and had the ball with plenty of time to go to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
The Giants offense, which actually looked good after a bad start, drove down to the Arizona 17 with 4:30 to go. Then came the third disastrous play. Eli Manning hit Rashad Jennings in the flat for a completion, but the running back tripped and fell to the ground, losing the ball in the process and the fumble was recovered by the Cardinals. Just like that, the Giants momentum was stifled. Worse of all, Jennings wasn't even touched on the fumble.
The Giants defense couldn't hold after the momentum-destroying play, and the Cardinals added a field goal to finish off a 25-14 defeat. Unlike last week, when the Giants were beaten handily by the Lions, this was a game Big Blue should have won. But the end result is an 0-2 record.
Here is a closer look at the players who were responsible for the loss, and even those who tried their best to get the Giants into the win column, as we hand out Game Falls and Game Balls.
Special Teams: Two back-to-back breakdowns on special teams cost the Giants the game against Arizona. On the first, Giants special teamer Zack Bowman had Ted Ginn in his grasp right after the catch for what should have been a short return. But Bowman couldn't bring Ginn down, as the returner spun out of the tackle and took off, sprinting past the rest of the Giants special teams, scoring on a 71-yard punt return. That gave the Cardinals the lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Quintin Demps fumbled the ball and the Cardinals recovered at the Giants 22. Arizona turned that into a field goal and an eight-point lead. The Giants special teams was a huge problem last year, allowing three punt returns for touchdowns. This year is already off to a terrible start.
Victor Cruz: The Giants best offensive player made a public plea this week to get more balls thrown in his direction on the field. That's all well and good, as the Giants need to get the ball to Cruz to have the best chance possible at winning games. But Cruz should probably be careful what he asks for next time. Cruz had 10 balls thrown his way Sunday, and he caught just five of them. In the fourth quarter, when the Giants needed their star receiver the most, Cruz dropped three passes, including two on back-to-back plays. One drop came on a third and six play which forced the Giants to punt. It became even more costly when the Cardinals returned that punt for a touchdown to take the lead. Cruz can talk all he wants, but he has to back up those words on the field or soon nobody will care to listen.
Rashad Jennings: He didn't have a bad game on offense, rushing for 64 yards and gaining another 45 on four receptions, but Jennings' fumble at the Cardinals' 15 was a killer for the Giants. The fact Jennings lost the ball without even getting hit makes it a tough turnover to understand.
Eli Manning: This was easily Manning's best game of the young season, as the offense looked very good at times, but the scoreboard still read only 14 points for the Giants. Manning threw two touchdown passes, but he also threw two interceptions, which has become his calling card the past two years. He didn't get much help from his receivers, but it starts and ends with Manning, and right now he's not playing well enough to overcome other's mistakes and win games.
Jason Pierre-Paul: The Giants defensive end had 1.5 sacks against Drew Stanton, who was playing for the injured Carson Palmer. Pierre-Paul looked every bit the beast he was during his rookie season. He added four tackles and two pass defenses in the game. Now, Pierre-Paul has to build off this and regain his status as one of the league's most feared pass rushers.
Larry Donnell: Two games, two Game Balls for Donnell, who is the Giants most productive pass catcher so far this season. Donnell caught seven passes for 81 yards against the Cardinals, which led all receivers in both categories. He's one of the few bright spots for the Giants.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara: The Giants cornerbacks had a nice bounce-back game, holding the Cardinals passing offense to just 167 yards. Last week, the Giants defense was beaten all over the field by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. This was a step in the right direction. Amukamara led the Giants with nine tackles and had a pass defensed. Rodgers-Cromartie had five tackles and two pass defenses.