- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- David Wilson thought he'd get an opportunity to redeem himself after losing a fumble in the first quarter.
It never came.
After coughing up the ball on his second NFL carry with 6:33 remaining in the opening quarter, the 21-year-old rookie running back was relegated to kick-return duty the rest of the way. The Giants lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24-17 in their season opener on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.
"When you fumble, you want to want to put it behind you and move forward with the game," Wilson said. "But I didn't get another offensive play in. It's hard to put it behind you when it's the last offensive play you remember."
On second-and-8 from the Dallas 29, the Giants ran a toss play to Wilson off left tackle. But as Wilson was coming around the edge, Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee got inside and stripped the ball from the Giants' first-round pick, and strong safety Barry Church recovered.
"I saw (Lee). It just happened. I fumbled," said Wilson, who finished with two carries for four yards and three kick returns for 71 yards. "I can't let it happen anymore."
Wilson was visibly upset as he stood on the sideline. Coach Tom Coughlin came over to talk to him, followed by running backs coach Jerald Ingram. Then veteran teammates Osi Umenyiora and Hakeem Nicks tried to console Wilson by offering him words of encouragement.
"I understand the coach's decision," said Wilson, adding he "most definitely" has to earn back trust from the coaching staff.
"I know I didn't have much room for error as a rookie, and then to have a critical error like that, a turnover ... You just live and you learn and you move forward."
Said Wilson of Umenyiora and Nicks: "They were just telling me to keep my head up and reminding me of their bad moments as rookies. It happens. Trying to cheer me up and keep my head up."
"He's a hell of a football player," Umenyiora said. "He's gonna respond well and play well the rest of the way and I needed to let him know that."
Starter Ahmad Bradshaw, who fumbled a career-high seven times in 2010, can relate to what Wilson went through.
"I've been in the same position," said Bradshaw, who rushed 17 times for 78 yards and a touchdown. "I just told him to keep his head up and focus on holding the ball a little more in practice and through the week. That's a tough play as a toss play getting around the edge, guys coming inside, gets a nice hit on him. It's hard to take that hit."
The Giants, who ranked last in the league in rushing a year ago, didn't get much from their ground game until late in the fourth quarter, when Bradshaw ripped off a 33-yarder.
Linebacker Michael Boley's 51-yard interception return early in the second quarter gave the Giants a first-and-goal from the Dallas 1. But Bradshaw was thwarted on back-to-back runs, and the Giants eventually had to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
"They had a great scheme. They filled the inside. It was a kind of an off-tackle play," Bradshaw said of his first attempt, which lost two yards. "They were able to get leverage on us."
The Giants failed to score again in the first half, and trailed 7-3 heading into the locker room.
They came back out and never recovered.
"This loss was a wake-up call for us," Bradshaw said. "We need to get ready for next week."