EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Win one, lose one. The New York Giants twice danced that unproductive stutter-step during the meaningless preseason and they've opened their regular season the same way.
Whether you dwell on their three turnovers, eight penalties, inconsistent offense or consistently poor field position, the Giants simply did not give themselves enough chances to win yesterday.
That's why they lost, 19-13, to the Los Angeles Rams at Giants Stadium. And only a late touchdown in the final two minutes drew the final score that close.
"We gave back something we worked very hard to gain," New York coach Ray Handley said, referring to the season-opening 16-14 win over San Francisco. "I thought the team was emotionally ready to play. But three turnovers is not our style of football."
Most of Handley's players agreed that the Giants didn't let down after beating the Niners. It was obvious that the defense (only 217 net yards allowed) came prepared to play -- even against a team that had been handled by non-power Phoenix 24-14 the week before. The defense was just left to crawl out of too many holes dug by the offense.
Nobody felt the Rams' new attacking defense, with its eight-man front and its incessant blitzes, surprised anybody. Nevertheless, stone-walled Handley's stubborn desire to establish the run. The Giants rushed for 116 yards on 28 carries, but never sustained any momentum. No drive lasted more than 5:30. None until the desperate last one traveled more than 51 yards.
Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler (17-for-32, 187 yards) passed erratically, but he too often was forced to throw in situations where the Rams knew he had to pass. The Giants didn't complete a pass until the second quarter. They attempted only 10 passes in the first half and left trailing, 10-6.
"We were pretty much prepared for what they were going to do," Hostetler said after losing for the first time in his nine NFL starts. "We just weren't executing."
The Giants' three drives in the scoreless first quarter ended with a punt, Brett Faryniarz' recovery of Hostetler's fumble on a sack by Roman Phifer and an interception by cornerback Darryl Henley. That was Hostetler's first interception in 184 passes since Week 6 of last season.
The Rams started on their 41, the Giants' 27 and the Giants' 30 on their first three drives, but didn't score until Tony Zendejas kicked a 29-yard field goal at 0:12 of the second.
Matt Bahr's 46-yard field goal at 5:42 of the quarter tied it 3-3, but the game took its deciding swing on the next series. The Rams were third-and-nine on the Giants' 39; the Giants were sure the Rams would pass. With six defensive backs playing man-to-man coverage and Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor and Erik Howard taking outside rushes, nobody could defend a draw play. By the time the Giants corralled Robert Delpino (27 carries, a career-high 116 yards) he had gained 36 yards to the New York 3.
Four snaps later (including an offsides), the Giants defense still hadn't let the Rams score. But on fourth-and-one, with 76,541 roaring, Delpino took a pitch over the right tackle and drove into a thick pack at the goal line. Delpino churned over Damone Johnson and squirted under Steve DeOssie, Taylor and Carl Banks. He would have come down short of the goal line, except as he fell on his own man, without his knees touching the ground, he extended his right arm and touched the goal line with the ball.
Head linesman Jerry Bergman signaled touchdown. The Giants argued vociferously. Referee Johnny Grier deferred to instant replay official Dave Hawk, who ruled his TV view inconclusive.
"Horse----," Banks muttered afterward. "Horse--- call. That's all I'll say."
"It wasn't a TD," DeOssie said angrily. "I don't care what that joke of a replay system said. The system's nothing but a bloody system to cover their own butts."
DeOssie said he heard the whistle blow before Delpino's arm hit the turf, but Grier said afterward he didn't hear that argument on the field.
"We don't know anything about any whistles being blown," Grier said. "No one said anything about any whistles being blown on the field."