JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The New York Giants' offensive line was losing bodies and leaking oil against one of the better pass-rushing defensive lines in the league. Quarterback Eli Manning was in for a rough second half of pressure. On his first dropback of the second half, Manning took a sack near his own goal line and fumbled the ball, and the whole game changed.
At that point, the Giants had a 21-3 lead on the 1-10 Jaguars and looked ready to coast to their first victory since Week 5. But when that ball rolled into the end zone and running back Rashad Jennings tried to pick it up instead of just land on it ("Not very smart," coach Tom Coughlin said later), things began to slide downhill for the Giants.
Jennings explained that his hand got caught on another player's leg and had to adjust in order to try to collect the ball. He said he knew he'd be better off just falling on the ball and taking a safety instead of letting the Jaguars recover it for a touchdown, but that he couldn't get to it as easily as he'd hoped. ("Do the math for me," Coughlin said. "Two from seven.")
The Jaguars did recover, cutting the lead to 21-10, and now they had some momentum. The Giants did nothing with their next three offensive possessions, converting to a conservative game plan seemingly designed to hold the big lead. The Jaguars managed their only offensive touchdown of the game, a sweet 30-yard pass from rookie quarterback Blake Bortles to rookie receiver Marqise Lee, and after Jacksonville's foolish decision to try for two points failed, the Giants took a 21-16 lead into the fourth quarter.
On first-and-10 from their own 48, the Giants ran the ball with Andre Williams, but Jacksonville's Sen'Derrick Marks blew up the play four yards behind the line. Tyson Alualu sacked Manning on the next play, so it was third-and-15 on the Giants' 43. Manning found no one open and checked the ball down to tight end Larry Donnell, who caught it three yards past the line and proceeded to fumble it away. Aaron Colvin recovered it and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown that gave the Jags a 22-21 lead.
Coughlin said the Jaguars hit Donnell low, as teams have and should, given his size, and that he fumbled the ball when he tried to break his fall with his free hand. Donnell explained that it's tough to hold on to a ball when you're falling and landing on your head. But as Coughlin explained to him somewhat heatedly after the play, he needs to figure out a way to do it, because they're going to keep hitting him low.
"I have to figure it out," Donnell said. "It's something I must eliminate, because it's critical to this team. I have to find a way to hold on to the football. That hurt us."
The Giants ended up taking the lead again on a field goal, but they left the Jaguars enough time to go down the field and kick one of their own, and the result was a 25-24 loss thanks to their inability to hold on to the ball when they had a big second-half lead.
"It's harder than you can possibly imagine to go through," Coughlin said. "21-3 at halftime, an opportunity to win a football game, and instead we give them two touchdowns with our offensive team. Our defense doesn't even have to be challenged there. Make people work for it, at least."