Seven months after becoming world champions, the New York Giants were given a harsh reminder that it is a brand-new season.
After opening up the NFL's 2012 schedule with a loss, the Giants play host on Sunday to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are coming off a victory in head coach Greg Schiano's debut.
Looking to build off their victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants hosted the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 5 seeking an early advantage for NFC East bragging rights. However, it was the Cowboys who left town with their heads high following a 24-17 victory.
It was certainly a game of missed opportunities for New York, which opened up the scoring in the second quarter with a Lawrence Tynes 22-yard field goal, a bit of a disappointment after linebacker Michael Boley's 51-yard interception return put the Giants at the Dallas one-yard line.
The Cowboys responded with a pair of touchdowns before an Ahmad Bradshaw rushing score cut the Giants' deficit to 14-10. Dallas rattled off the next 10 points, though, including a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo to wide receiver Miles Austin on a 1st-and-30 play with 6:12 to go that put enough distance between the teams.
"You take a bite out of humble pie is basically what it is. It brings you right back down to Earth," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said about the loss. "Last year is last year and this year is this year."
New York never led following its early 3-0 advantage and became the first defending champion to lose its opening game since the Denver Broncos in 1999.
Even worse, the Giants have had extra time to stew over the loss.
"Yeah. I haven't slept well, so I think we all are itching to get back on the field," defensive end Justin Tuck said on Monday. "Definitely got a lot of work to do on the practice field. We've been in this situation before."
Tampa Bay is in a position it wasn't in last year en route to a 4-12 season: 1-0 after its first game.
The Buccaneers used a solid defensive effort and some timely scoring to escape with a 16-10 win over the visiting Carolina Panthers this past Sunday.
Tampa Bay scored a touchdown on its first possession, but had to settle for three Connor Barth field goals after that. Still, a solid ground attack and run-stuffing effort on defense keyed Schiano's squad.
"That was a good team win," Schiano said. "I'm really happy for the guys. They've worked awfully hard, and for them to be able to get a win after all that is good. Now the journey begins."
Tampa Bay snapped its 10-game losing streak dating back to last season, a skid that led to the firing of former head coach Raheem Morris.
Schiano's hard-nosed approach certainly paid off for the defense, which held the Panthers to just 10 yards rushing in the game to tie a franchise record for fewest allowed on the ground. That came despite two rookies -- safety Mark Barron and linebacker Lavonte David -- getting starts.
Giants lead 11-6
Streak: Giants have won last three meetings Last Meeting: Giants 24, Buccaneers 0 (Sept. 27, 2009 at Tampa Bay) Last Meeting at Site: Giants 17, Buccaneers 3 (Oct. 29, 2006 at Giants Stadium)
Buccaneers HC Greg Schiano vs. Giants: 0-0 Giants HC Tom Coughlin vs. Buccaneers: 4-1 overall, 3-0 with New York Schiano vs. Coughlin Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Giants also topped the Bucs by a 24-14 count in Tampa in a 2007 NFC First-Round Playoff, the only postseason encounter to date between the teams. The Buccaneers are 1-6 all-time as the visitor in this series, with their lone win coming by a 20-8 score at Giants Stadium on Nov. 30, 1997, and haven't topped New York since a 19-13 home triumph on Nov. 24, 2003. Coughlin went 1-1 against Tampa Bay during his tenure as Jacksonville's head coach from 1995-2002. Schiano coached Rutgers to a 23-20 overtime win over Army at MetLife Stadium in 2010.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Tampa Bay: tied 27th overall (258.0 ypg), 8th rushing (130.0 ypg), 31st passing (128.0 ypg), tied 25th scoring (16.0 ppg)
N.Y. Giants: 26th overall (269.0 ypg), 21st rushing (82.0 ypg), 28th passing (187.0 ypg), tied 23rd scoring (17.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Tampa Bay: 11th overall (301.0 ypg), 1st rushing (10.0 ypg), 24th passing (291.0 ypg), tied 1st scoring (10.0 ppg)
N.Y. Giants: 30th overall (433.0 ypg), 26th rushing (143.0 ypg), 23rd passing (290.0 ypg), tied 18th scoring (24.0 ppg)
Tampa Bay: +2 (2 takeaways, 0 giveaways) N.Y. Giants: 0 (1 takeaways, 1 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Tampa Bay: 33.3 percent (3 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 23rd overall N.Y. Giants: 66.7 percent (3 possessions, 2 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 7th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Tampa Bay: 0.0 percent (1 possessions, 0 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 1st overall N.Y. Giants: 66.7 percent (3 possessions, 2 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 24th overall
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Rookie running back Doug Martin gave the Buccaneers all they could have hoped for in his NFL debut, as he ran for 95 yards on 24 carries to pace a consistent ground attack. In all, Tampa Bay ran the ball 36 times against the Panthers, with quarterback Josh Freeman taking off seven times for 13 yards. LeGarrette Blount, who saw the majority of the team's carries a season ago, ran the ball only three times and suffered what the team called a stinger that caused him to miss practice on Wednesday, though he is expected to be available for this game. Freeman was still sacked twice despite his mobility and completed 16-of-24 passes for 138 yards without a pick. He also hooked up with Mike Williams on a six-yard score to cap the Bucs' first possession. Freeman's top target was newcomer Vincent Jackson, who saw 10 passes fired his way. He made four catches for 47 yards, while Martin and fullback Erik Lorig made four receptions each out of the backfield. Freeman will hope to get new tight end Dallas Clark move involved after hooking up with the first-year Buc just once for 33 yards.
Some injury issues for the Giants led to their defense getting tagged for 433 yards by the Cowboys, who found success on both the ground and through the air. Romo logged 307 yards passing with three touchdowns despite getting picked off by Boley, as New York's secondary was without corner Prince Amukamara due to a high ankle sprain and replacement Michael Coe had to exit his first NFL start early due to a hamstring issue. New York is hoping to get Amukamara back for this game along with defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who sat out Week 1 with a back issue. With Dallas having much success in the passing game, safety Antrel Rolle led New York with nine tackles, while linebackers Keith Rivers and Chase Blackburn had seven and six stops, respectively. Tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard each had a sack, and New York will try to get more from ends Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul in this game. The Giants will also try to avoid getting torched on the ground again after yielding 143 rushing yards to the Cowboys.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Bradshaw did most of the work for the Giants on the ground last week, logging 17 of the team's 19 rush attempts for 78 yards with a score. Rookie David Wilson was limited to just two carries for four yards and had a key fumble early in the game. Quarterback Eli Manning was decent in the loss, throwing for 213 yards on 21-of-32 passing. He did connect with tight end Martellus Bennett on a nine-yard touchdown play late in the fourth quarter and was not intercepted, though he was sacked three times. Manning looked Bennett's way six times, the same number of targets wide receiver Hakeem Nicks made. Wideout Victor Cruz was thrown to 11 times by Manning and led the Giants with six receptions for 58 yards. IF the Bucs aim to take away Cruz and Nicks, Manning could continue to look towards Bennett as a safe option should the long passes not be there.
Tampa Bay's run defense absolutely dominated Carolina, holding the NFC South rivals to an average of 0.8 yards per carry. Playmaking quarterback Cam Newton ran for just four yards on five attempts and Panthers starting running back DeAngelo Williams ended with minus-one yards on the ground on six attempts. The Bucs did allow Newton to throw for 303 yards, including seven completions to wideout Steve Smith that totaled 106 yards, but safeties Ronde Barber and Ahmad Black came away with interceptions. Barber was making his 200th straight start, extending an NFL record for defensive backs, and added a sack to his total while making five tackles. Left end Michael Bennett and tackle Gerald McCoy had a sack each. David made six tackles in his debut, while Barron made three stops and was credited with two passes defensed. In addition to a balanced defensive effort, cornerback Aqib Talib blocked a punt in the fourth quarter, the first for Tampa Bay since 2009.
While the Giants have had extra time to think about their rough season opener, the additional days between games have also given the defending champs an opportunity to work out some of the kinks. Those mainly came on defense, and some more healthy bodies this weekend should help out. Tampa Bay put forth a dominating effort to win in Week 1, but face a more veteran and accomplished quarterback this weekend on the road. New York is better prepared to move the ball on the ground, and that should free up Manning to make some plays against the Buccaneers' secondary. Tampa's offense has plenty of different options of its own, but will have trouble keeping pace with the Giants.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 27, Buccaneers 13