Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo abused the Giants secondary and the offensive line was no more impressive, giving little wiggle room for the rushing attack to flourish or Eli Manning to settle down in the pocket. As a result, the Giants became the first of the last nine Super Bowl champions to lose their season opener on national television.
There were few bright spots to speak of, but here are the Giants’ top five performers from that pride-crushing loss:
Eli Manning, QB
Despite the team’s very obvious struggles, Manning did all he could to flourish with what he was given. He was sacked three times and missed an easy touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon, but Manning completed 21-of-32 passes (with three drops from Victor Cruz) for 213 yards and a touchdown.
Manning did all he could to keep the Giants in the game. In typical fashion, he led the Giants down the field in the fourth quarter to get the team within seven, but the defense was unable to put the ball back in his hands to complete the comeback.
Martellus Bennett, TE
At the opposite end of that touchdown pass was free-agent acquisition Martellus Bennett. Bennett’s first game with the Giants was a positive one—though the result is something he is not pleased with. He caught four passes for 40 yards and that aforementioned touchdown, while also serving as a dependable blocker when asked to do so.
“The Black Unicorn,” as he calls himself, showed to be a promising feature in the offense. His ability to get open and do something with the football in his hands will be invaluable in an offense that loves to utilize all of its options.
Bennett has led a career of underachievement—conveniently for the Giants’ opponent on Wednesday—and has always believe to have an outstanding amount of untapped potential. If there’s a quarterback who can bring the best out of him, it will be Manning. Keep an eye on this combo throughout the year.
Antrel Rolle, S
The Giants secondary is scary awful, but Rolle’s ability to be around the football at all times is something they may become quite dependent on this season, like it or not.
Rolle recorded nine tackles, containing most of the Cowboys’ offensive output from getting past him. Were it not for Rolle’s presence on the field on Wednesday, the Cowboys likely would have posted a few more big plays that would’ve left the Giants in the dust early.
Rolle was the team leader for tackles in 2011. It’s not a common occurrence for the safety to lead the team in tackles, but with the league evolving and the Giants boasting a lackluster pass defense, it’s likely Rolle will see a handful of tackle opportunities again this season. His ability limiting the big plays that hurt the Giants is a very underrated trait that has become vital in keeping opponents off the scoreboards and enabling the Giants more opportunities to force a turnover: they forced 31 turnovers in 2011.
Linval Joseph/Rocky Bernard, DT
The Giants’ acclaimed pass rush was not able to accomplish much in the season opener. Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck managed to bring pressure at times, but were shut out with zero sacks between the three of them.
Joseph and Bernard, however, stepped up early for the Giants with a sack each. Joseph and Bernard were able to capitalize on the Cowboys’ focus on slowing up the Giants’ feisty defensive ends, seizing their opportunity with punishing blows to Romo.
Their play against the run was not particularly notable, but was honestly no worse than the rest of the Giants defense. The Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray had his way on the ground, but Joseph and Bernard did account for five tackles on the night.
Steve Weatherford, P
Do you know how you know when your team had a terrible game? When the punter is one of the few players to gloat about.
Weatherford, who had a career year for the Giants last season and was an unsung hero in Super Bowl XLVI, was dependable in the punt game. No. 5 delivered booming kicks that aided Giants in the field position battle, averaging 44.5 yards per punt on four punts with a long of 56 and one punt inside the 20.
For a franchise that has lacked in the special teams department for years, Weatherford is a comforting presence whose leg will benefit the Giants substantially over the course of this season.