EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Super Bowl champion New York Giants certainly didn't pick up where they left off.
Instead of playing like the team that went on a six-game winning streak in capturing their second title in five seasons, the Giants played a dismal game on both sides of the ball in dropping a 24-17 decision to the Dallas Cowboys in the kickoff to the NFL season on Wednesday night.
"It's very, very frustrating," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's hurts to come in and be playing a game at home, a game of this nature, the opener of the season and the way we played, we certainly are capable of playing better."
The Giants gave up 433 yards, allowed Cowboys No. 3 receiver Kevin Ogletree to have a career night with eight catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns and saw running back DeMarco Murray scamper for 131 yards, many on runs in which he seemed stopped at the line of scrimmage.
While Eli Manning passed for 213 yards, the Giants offensive line could not protect him and never got the running game going, except for a couple of plays. Victor Cruz dropped passes and touted rookie running back David Wilson lost a fumble with New York near the Dallas 30.
"We definitely stumbled out of the gates, no doubt about that," said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who failed to wrapped up Murray at the line of scrimmage on a run that turned in a 48-yard gain. "The good thing is we see them again and we have a lot of football left to play. For us to get down on ourselves is not going to be effective or productive. What we have to do is look at it with an open mind and say 'OK, take our lump, look at the film and say I messed this up and make sure those issues don't come back during the season."
The Cowboys played like a champion in gaining a measure of revenge against the team that beat them out for the NFC East title on the final day of last season.
They were ready for 2012 and so were the replacement officials, who barely were a story in a game that wasn't as close as the final score.
The win won't make up for the New Year's Day loss that ended the Cowboys' season and sent the Giants on their way to the NFL championship. It sure could provide impetus for this season, though, particularly with the discovery of Ogletree.
Romo passed for 307 yards and threw two of his three touchdowns to Ogletree.
Dallas' defense frustrated Manning and his offense with three sacks and a half-dozen pressures, all before the largest crowd at MetLife Stadium for a Giants game. The 82,287 saw the defending league champs lose in the now-traditional midweek kickoff contest for the first time in nine such games.
When the Cowboys were threatened late — a spot they often have folded in against the Giants — Romo hit Ogletree for 15 yards on third down to clinch it. That gave Ogletree 114 yards on eight catches; he had 25 receptions for 294 yards and no scores entering the game.
"We're judged by winning and losing so the best thing was going on the road and getting a win," Romo said. "Not only a win but it was against a division rival and obviously against the world champs. I don't know how many times teams go in and beat them in that first game of the year. It's a tough atmosphere, a tough game. Our team grinded it out and did good."
The Cowboys' big-time receivers — Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten — were eclipsed by Ogletree, who sure didn't resemble a backup. In the first half, he had five catches for 47 yards and a TD, and broke free for a 40-yard reception early in the third quarter.
Ogletree thoroughly fooled New York's top cornerback, Corey Webster on his long score to start the second half — the kind of big play the Cowboys couldn't make enough of in that Jan. 1 showdown that ended their season. And they got another huge play from Murray, who broke two tackles in the backfield, scooted down the right sideline for 48 yards, and set up Dan Bailey's 33-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead through three quarters.
After Manning connected with former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett for a 9-yard touchdown with 2:36 remaining, Dallas never gave the ball back.
Murray's counterpart with the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw, scored on a 10-yard run — New York's first effective rush all game — for the hosts' first touchdown. And Ogletree's opposite number, Giants third wideout Domenik Hixon, made a spectacular leaping grab for 39 yards over two defenders to set up that score.
Dallas overcame its sloppiness late in the opening half basically on two big plays. Romo hit Bryant in stride over Webster down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain on third down. Two plays later, he sidestepped the pass rush and lobbed to a wide-open Ogletree for a 10-yard score.
America's thirst for football hardly could have been quenched by the first half — unless you enjoy strong defensive line play. Each team had one solid drive that was stymied in scoring position, and the only players moving the ball with consistency were punters Steve Weatherford for New York and Chris Jones for Dallas.
Sean Lee, the Cowboys' rising star inside linebacker, slammed into Wilson and the running back fumbled at the Dallas 29. Then the Cowboys moved 29 yards to fourth-and-inches at the Giants 37. Rather than try a quarterback sneak, Romo handed to fullback Lawrence Vickers, who never got close to converting.
Dallas showed similar strength after Michael Boley's 51-yard interception, throwing Bradshaw for losses on consecutive runs on which New York's line was overrun. Lawrence Tynes' 22-yard field goal made it 3-0 moments after the first murmur of officiating controversy.
Manning threw to Victor in the middle of the end zone and Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick arrived along with the ball. Manning and Cruz motioned for a flag, but it did not come, perhaps because the ball was thrown a bit behind Cruz.
Otherwise, the feared flops by the replacement officials didn't materialize, although Dallas couldn't have been happy with 13 penalties for 86 yards.
The Cowboys could be happy with just about everything else, including Witten playing despite having lacerated his spleen last month.