Lions 28, Giants 13
An early-season surprise, the New York Giants emerged from a two-week layoff lethargic and rusty, not rested and eager. Major problems along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield combined with players unhappy with the no-nonsense tactics of Coach Tom Coughlin resulted in a 28-13 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Giants Stadium.
In the aftermath, New York fell two games behind the first-place Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East and drew Coughlin's ire.
"My expectations for the whole team are much higher than that,'' Coughlin said. "Our preparation wasn't as good as it's been. We took some things for granted. We started to feel a little full of ourselves, I think, and didn't prepare properly. . . . That football team, the Detroit Lions, has come off two losses, big losses, and played well the following week. It was well-documented. The information was there. We just didn't heed the information."
The Lions rebounded from a four-touchdown defeat at home to the Green Bay Packers a week before and improved their record to 4-2. They're 3-0 on the road, that after entering the season with a league-record 24 straight road losses.
"I'm trying to figure it out," Lions wide receiver Reggie Swinton said. "We're playing like [junk] at home. And on the road, we're doing well."
The Lions got a boost from their two prized rookies returning from ankle sprains, as wide receiver Roy Williams caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joey Harrington in the first quarter and tailback Kevin Jones scored his first NFL touchdown on a two-yard run in the third quarter. Harrington completed 18 of 22 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Swinton with 2 minutes 52 seconds left in the game after the Giants (4-2) had gotten within 14-13. Detroit tailback Artose Pinner capped the scoring with an eight-yard touchdown run with 1:46 remaining after the Giants failed on fourth and four from their 22-yard line.
The Detroit defense limited tailback Tiki Barber to 70 rushing yards on 22 carries. Barber scored on a 62-yard touchdown late in the first quarter on a screen pass from quarterback Kurt Warner. But the Giants had to settle for two short field goals by kicker Steve Christie after drives stalled inside the Lions 10. Warner was sacked six times even though the Lions rarely blitzed. He had three fumbles, losing one, and threw a costly interception in the final moments of the first half. Those are the kind of mistakes the Giants avoided during their 4-1 start. They began the day with the league's best turnover margin, at plus-11.
"I thought we stopped listening,'' Coughlin said. "I thought we didn't prepare the way we had been preparing. It's unfortunate that happened. When a team is prepared and ready to go, they play the way we've been playing. They play hard. There's always going to be errors in a game. You know that. But I think you leave it on the field. You prepare well. You play with great effort, and you trust your instincts. There wasn't a lot of that today.''
Giants players had seemed to settle into a truce with Coughlin after veterans clashed with him before the season, particularly over his policy of fining players for being early to meetings but not early enough to suit him. But starting linebacker Barrett Green was benched Sunday in favor of Nick Greisen reportedly because Green was late to a practice. Green played only on special teams and said he had been left with the impression he would get some playing time on defense.
"It was probably one of the most frustrating experiences of my life,'' Green said. "It's not my job and not my prerogative to have an opinion on it. Any questions you have pertaining to that situation, you'd have to ask Tom Coughlin.''
Coughlin said he would have played Green on defense if needed. He said the details of the incident would remain between him and Green. That quickly, all of the Giants' progress seemed to have dissipated. Coughlin was upbeat, at least publicly, in the aftermath of the club's season-opening loss at Philadelphia, and the Giants followed with four consecutive victories heading into their bye week.
"He's just really disappointed,'' Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer said. "He felt like we had opportunities and didn't get it done.''
The Giants are 3-13 all-time in games immediately after byes.
"We let each other down as a team,'' defensive end Michael Strahan said. "I can't blame the bye week. That's a copout. We just did not come out with energy and enthusiasm. We did not play like we were a very fresh team. We did not play like we were a very enthusiastic team at times. . . . This shows everybody we still have a long way to go.''
Warner completed 23 of 34 passes for 270 yards. But he threw his second interception of the season when he tried to lob the ball to a temporarily open Toomer in the back of the end zone on first down from the Detroit 11 in the final minute of the first half. Lions cornerback Chris Cash made a diving interception, and the Giants failed to add to their 10-7 lead.
"It was a game we should have had, and we made too many mistakes,'' Warner said. "My two turnovers hurt us, especially the one at the end of the half. If we get points there, it's a whole different set of circumstances.''