For the first time this season, the Giants had the lead. They were playing well. They were moving the ball, for crying out loud. It seemed that all of the headaches of the preseason and last week's season-opening loss, all of the worries about repeating last year's terrible 0-6 start, were about to be shelved. Progress was being made.
Then three consecutive plays ruined it all.
A dropped pass by Victor Cruz, a punt returned 71 yards for a touchdown by Ted Ginn Jr. and a fumbled kickoff return by Quintin Demps turned a one-point fourth-quarter lead into a 22-14 deficit in the span of 73 seconds and the Giants lost to the Cardinals, 25-14, Sunday in their home opener at MetLife Stadium.
"We had a one-point lead," Eli Manning said, "and the next time we touched the ball, we were down eight."
Tom Coughlin seemed to be running out of ways to describe the Giants' failures as they started consecutive seasons with two straight losses for the first time since 1995-96.
"It's like watching I don't know what," he said before finally grabbing on to a word that seemed to fit the situation even if he had used it less than a week ago. "We [had] the lead 14-13 and from there it was a nightmare."
Even after that trifecta of doom, the Giants still had a chance to tie it. They drove to the Arizona 17, converting two third downs, before running back Rashad Jennings slipped and fumbled the ball without any contact from the defense. It was the third of four turnovers in the game for the Giants.
Jennings' miscue may have cost the Giants dearly, but he did a solid job of summing up the afternoon. "We did some things well," he said, "but as always, it's overshadowed by the things we didn't do well."
"We did make a little bit of progress," Coughlin said. "Nobody wants to hear that. We lost. There's no excuse for it. But we did see a little bit better play."
The Giants (0-2) took their first lead of the season when Manning hit tight end Daniel Fells for a 1-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-10 with 2:03 left in the third quarter. The score came at the end of a 10-play drive and two plays after Patrick Peterson was flagged for a blatant pass interference against Cruz in the end zone.
Pinned at their 7 after the ensuing kickoff, the Cardinals drove to the Giants' 19 with the help of three penalties in the secondary against the Giants, then Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 37-yard field goal with 11:38 left to close to 14-13.
"I thought we had this one, I really thought we had this one," safety Antrel Rolle said.
He wasn't alone.
"I felt like we had it," right tackle Justin Pugh said.
The Cardinals (2-0) took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter as the Giants' wobbly play looked as if it would continue for a second straight week. Filling in for the injured Carson Palmer, backup quarterback Drew Stanton led an 80-yard drive on the opening possession, converting three third downs along the way, including a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Dwyer on third-and-goal for a 7-0 lead.
The Giants responded with a drive that had good rhythm until Manning, under pressure, threw a pass over the middle that deflected off the pads of defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and into the hands of Sam Acho for an interception. It was the third interception of the season for Manning. A field goal made it 10-0.
A 90-yard drive by the Giants featured three completions to Cruz and a one-handed, 7-yard touchdown reception by Rueben Randle with Peterson in tight coverage. That made it 10-7 with 37 seconds left in the half.
"We definitely played better offensively than we did the other week, but it's still a loss," Manning said. "It was better, but not where it needs to be. We made improvements, but we have to find ways to win games and find ways to make some plays in the clutch."
Until then, the nightmares will continue.