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Eli Manning returned for the Giants, but their 2017 misery remained

Eli Manning couldn’t bring the Giants a victory in his return to the starting role. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—The New York Giants made things right Sunday with Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback returned to the starting lineup. Fans at MetLife Stadium cheered Manning when he took the field and chanted his name when he threw a touchdown pass.

But even with Manning back on the field and Ben McAdoo gone from the sideline, it was more of the same for the Giants in a dreary season. An early lead disappeared and they lost, 30-10, to the Dallas Cowboys, who used three touchdown passes by quarterback Dak Prescott to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive as they await the return of suspended tailback Ezekiel Elliott.

A week of upheaval for the Giants ended on a gray, chilly Sunday, with the remnants of Saturday’s snow visible outside the stadium but not within it. The Giants made their first in-season head coaching change since 1976 when they ousted McAdoo last Monday, with their season in disarray and many fans and former players livid over the clumsy benching of Manning the previous week.

“That’s where you want to be,” Manning said Sunday. “That’s where I want to be. I want to be there with my teammates, try to get a win, be there for the fans and do my part. Hopefully the coaches believe I give us the best chance to get a win at quarterback. I thought we did some good things today, competed. And for three and a half quarters, we were right in the mix. We’ve got to find ways to finish stronger in the second half and at the end of games.”

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Manning began a new streak of consecutive starts. It reached one Sunday, or 209 fewer than the string that was ended by McAdoo. Manning’s future with the Giants beyond this season is uncertain. For now, he and the Giants merely are playing out the string in a lost season.

“I guess I just looked at it as hey, it’s another opportunity to go play and win a football game,” Manning said. “Obviously the last two weeks have been difficult with losing my starting job, losing your head coach. Those things are hard. And they are personal and hurt. I don’t like losing a head coach. I take that personal. That’s on me for not doing my job. I don’t like losing my starting job. That’s personal also. That’s because I haven’t played well enough and we’re not winning games.

“I appreciate Spags [Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants’ interim coach] giving me the opportunity to get the start this week and see if we could get us a win. I’m sorry we didn’t play well enough to get that win.”

The Giants had a 10-3 lead in the second quarter Sunday with Spagnuolo, promoted from defensive coordinator after McAdoo’s dismissal, in charge. Manning received a standing ovation when he and the Giants’ offense took the field for the first time. Fans chanted, “E-li Man-ning!” after he threw a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rhett Ellison.

But these are the 2017 Giants. Their record dropped to 2-11; their lead didn’t last long. The Cowboys got even on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to wide receiver Dez Bryant, who broke a tackle after making the catch on a slant pattern and coasted to the end zone.

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Wideout Cole Beasley turned another short pass into a 54-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter, setting up Prescott’s 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Witten. Running back Rod Smith sprinted to the end zone for an 81-yard touchdown on a catch and run to seal the outcome with a little more than four minutes remaining.

The Cowboys’ record improved to 7-6. They benefited Sunday from the return of linebacker Sean Lee, who’d missed three games because of a hamstring injury. Lee had a late interception on a deflected pass, setting up a 15-yard touchdown run by Smith. The Cowboys overcame two missed long-range field goal attempts and an extra point gone awry by usually reliable kicker Dan Bailey. Prescott finished with 332 yards in a 20-for-30 passing day.

“I wouldn’t say [it’s] desperation,” Witten said. “But the margins are tight. We’ve got to keep winning.”

It’s a long shot that they’ll be able to secure a wild-card spot in the NFC, but the Cowboys at least did their part Sunday. They must play one more game without Elliott, next Sunday night at Oakland, before he’s eligible to return from his six-game suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy in a Dec. 24 game at home against the Seattle Seahawks.

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