Commentary

Cowboys defense crumbles vs. Giants

Rob Ryan's crew can take blame for making life easy on Eli Manning & Co.

Updated: December 12, 2011, 2:11 PM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Sometimes the briefest answers lead to the best insights.

Here's how Terence Newman described the final two drives for the Cowboys' defense Sunday night:

"He threw it. They caught it. End of story."

Eli Manning threw it. Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Jake Ballard and Hakeem Nicks caught it. The New York Giants won it, and the Cowboys lost it.

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan couldn't come up with a way to stop Eli Manning and the Giants in the game's critical junctures.

For the third straight time at Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys defense faltered against their bitter NFC East rivals. This time you could not blame Wade Phillips or Tony Romo's broken collarbone or the roof being open.

The blame goes to everybody on defense.

Start with coordinator Rob Ryan. This is when his bravado comes back to haunt him. He can dish terrific quotes that make people laugh, but he could not dial up a defense in the final 5:41 that could slow down Manning.

He blitzed and was beat. He played coverage and was beat.

Truth be told, he struggled finding the right call most of the night. The Giants finished with 510 yards on offense. Manning threw for 400 yards. Brandon Jacobs ran for 101 yards. Nicks became the fourth wide receiver in as many games to go for more than 100 yards against the Cowboys and finished with 154.

"I mean, hell, I've been in this business a long time and got my ass kicked before, so …" Ryan said as he walked out of the locker room without stopping. "I've got nothing to say, guys. We're going to work hard and get our [expletive] together."

He'd better hurry. The Cowboys have only three games left.

Manning threw 47 passes and was not sacked once. He constantly threw the ball away when under pressure and had one intentional grounding penalty.

When Manning did have time he kept going at Newman, who could have altered the game in a huge way had he held on to a sure interception that he could have taken back for a touchdown on New York's first drive. Instead, the ball fell to the turf, and Newman would never really recover.

"That's like saying you wish you did this or would've done that," Newman said. "If you want to put it that way, it would've made seven more points. So it was a play that should've been made. Just didn't make it."

Newman wasn't the lone susceptible member of the secondary. Manning was an equal-opportunity quarterback. He went at Orlando Scandrick. He went at Frank Walker. He went at Alan Ball. About the only guy he could not do much with was Mike Jenkins, who was limited for most of the game because of a shoulder injury.

Yet the defense appeared to have made the biggest play of the game when Sean Lee intercepted Manning after a Victor Butler deflection. Lee's 30-yard return set the Cowboys up at the New York 49. Two plays later, Dez Bryant was mimicking Cruz's salsa-dance celebration with a 50-yard touchdown catch.

With 5:41 to play, the Cowboys had a 34-22 lead.

With any sort of defense, that should have been the game.

Instead, it became the fifth fourth-quarter fold of the season.

The defense allowed 10 fourth-quarter points in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets. It allowed 17 more against Detroit. Tom Brady drove New England 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown pass with 22 seconds to play. Washington's Rex Grossman delivered on an 89-yard drive to force overtime. Yes, Rex Grossman. But the Cowboys won in overtime.

Then last week the Cowboys lost at Arizona in overtime on a 52-yard screen pass to LaRod Stephens-Howling.

"We haven't made plays down the stretch," Lee said. "The players haven't stepped up, especially defensively. We're not stepping up in big situations."

After the interception, Manning completed 8 of 11 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown pass to Ballard. He had to convert only one third-down try on the final two drives, and he picked up 23 yards when he needed only a yard.

The Cowboys helped, too. DeMarcus Ware jumped offside -- twice. The first one wiped out what was a muffed shotgun snap. Ball missed a chance at an interception on the play preceding Ballard's touchdown. Walker gave up a first down with a holding penalty on the game-winning drive.

When it mattered early (Newman's dropped interception) and mattered late (penalties, missed assignments), the defense failed.

Again.

"I kind of forgot about all of that," Newman said of the fourth-quarter troubles. "It does suck, to be honest with you. It's not the storybook ending you always look for, especially playing a division opponent, a huge rivalry. And for them to come back to win the football game the way they did, of course it stings. It hurts."

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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