EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- After Tony Romo, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys spoiled their home opener, the defending Super Bowl champions had to walk through the tunnel back into their locker room and hear it from Tom Coughlin.
"Take a bite out of humble pie," Coughlin said of his message to the New York Giants after their deflating 24-17 loss to the Cowboys at home. "It brings you right back to Earth."
If the Super Bowl champs were still flying as high as the Blackhawk helicopters that flew over MetLife Stadium before the game, they came crashing down with a heavy dose of reality.
The 2011 season and the magic of winning six straight do-or-die games and the Vince Lombardi trophy is over. Romo reminded them the hard way.
"No one on last year's team is going to come back," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "Dave Tollefson has moved on, Aaron Ross has moved on. There are a number of guys who are gone. And in their place, we have great players so this group has to get it done."
This season might have as many roller-coaster ups and downs in store for the Giants again if the opener is any indication.
Offensively, the running game looked as dull as it was for most of last season when they finished last in the NFL in rushing. Victor Cruz dropped some balls that he hadn't dropped last year or during the preseason.
But perhaps what was most concerning about Wednesday night's game was the Giants' defensive struggles. In a heated rivalry that has often had games decided by one big play here or there, the world champs gave up too many to Dallas.
Romo completed 22 of 29 passes and repeatedly slipped out of trouble as he scrambled all over MetLife Stadium. He threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns, routinely baffling Perry Fewell's defense.
Romo's favorite target wasn't Dez Bryant, Jason Witten or Miles Austin on this night. Instead, a relatively unknown kid from Queens, Kevin Ogletree, who actually visited with the Giants during free agency, torched the secondary for eight receptions and 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Even the Giants' best corner, Corey Webster, lost Ogletree on a double move and gave up a 40-yard touchdown catch that handed the Cowboys a 14-3 lead early in the third quarter.
Eli Manning cut the deficit to 14-10 midway through the third only to see the defense give up yet another big play.
Murray rushed for 131 yards, 111 of them coming after halftime. His 48-yard run with 4:35 left in the third quarter symbolized the kind of game it was for Perry Fewell's defense. Kiwanuka hit Murray behind the line of scrimmage only to see the running back bounce off him. Tuck then had him in his grasp only to lose grip and see Murray scamper down the right sideline.
A potential three-yard loss turned into a monster confidence booster for the Cowboys, and led to a field goal.
The big dagger, though, came in the fourth. The Cowboys put together an eight-play, seven-minute drive that culminated with an Austin 34-yard touchdown that took the air out of the stadium. Austin jumped high and snatched the ball over cornerback Justin Tryon, who was filling in for an injured Michael Coe. At the same time, Austin avoided safety Antrel Rolle to stroll in for a touchdown that put the Cowboys up 24-10 with 5:57 remaining.
Oh, and the touchdown came on a first-and-30 at the Giants' 34-yard-line.
"We definitely got some work to do," said an exasperated Jason Pierre-Paul, who came close but couldn't sack Romo on a few occasions. "I don't know, man. I just feel like as a team we didn't give an all-out effort. We can do better."
The final sin of the night for the Giants' defense was not being able to get off the field and give Manning a chance to pull off his fourth-quarter magic one more time against Dallas.
After Martellus Bennett caught a 9-yard touchdown pass to slice the deficit to 24-17 with 2:36 remaining, the Giants gave up a first down on a 3-yard Murray run only to get a reprieve when Witten was called for holding. And still, the Giants gave up a third-and-10 with 2:11 remaining when Romo hit Ogletree one final time for 13 yards.
This was far from the defensive unit that suffocated the Falcons, slowed down powerful Green Bay, matched San Francisco's mighty defense blow for blow and frustrated Tom Brady in the playoffs.
The Giants had trouble stopping the run again, and will be without Chris Canty for at least another five weeks. The cornerback position is once again decimated by injuries with Coe's hamstring hurt and Prince Amukamara already sidelined by a high ankle sprain. And big plays were being handed out like rally towels given to fans.
The one positive to eating a heaping helping of humble pie is that it came in Week 1, on Sept. 5.
If anybody knows not to panic after a lackluster start to the season, it's the New York Giants.
"The last time we won a Super Bowl, we started 0-1," Tuck said of losing to the Washington Redskins last year in the season opener. "And the time before that we started 0-2 [back in 2007]. So it is a long season. We will figure things out. We will be right where we need to be at the end of the year."