EAST RUTHERFORD New Jersey (Reuters) - A wave of good feeling quickly turned to horror for the New York Giants on Sunday as a fourth-quarter lead over the Arizona Cardinals vanished in a nightmare sequence of mistakes in a 25-14 defeat.
The loss left the Giants 0-2 for the new season and by the closing minutes, nearly all of the 80,000 fans who had packed MetLife Stadium had already filed out, no doubt experiencing flashbacks to last year's 0-6 start.
"Dropped balls, punt returns, kickoff return fumbled, fumbled the ball without anybody hitting us over on the 17-yard line when we had a chance to score," lamented befuddled New York coach Tom Coughlin.
"We take the lead, 14-13, and from there it was a nightmare."
The game had appeared winnable against a Cardinals team (2-0) without sore shouldered starting quarterback Carson Palmer.
But in the span of less than six minutes an encouraging New York performance turned sour against a Cardinals team steered by back-up quarterback Drew Stanton, who had last thrown an NFL pass in December 2010.
With New York holding a 14-13 lead with 10 minutes to play, a dropped third-down pass to Victor Cruz led to a punt, which was returned for 71 yards and a touchdown by Ted Ginn, who avoided a point-blank tackle by Zack Bowman at the start of the return.
Quintin Demps fumbled the ensuing kickoff leading to an Arizona field goal, and when the Giants drove down the field with a chance to tie it with a touchdown and two-point conversion, running back Rashad Jennings caught a short pass and slipped, fell and fumbled away the ball, ending their last good chance.
The Giants, whose 2012 and 2008 Super Bowl wins make them the last NFL team to collect a pair of NFL titles, were left looking for silver linings.
"We definitely played better offensively than we did the other week, but it's still a loss," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who looked more comfortable in the new West Coast style offense as he completed 26 of 39 passes for 277 yards.
Manning threw for two touchdowns, a one-hand grab by Rueben Randle on a fade route in the end zone and a one-yard connection to back-up tight end Daniel Fells.
"Just made too many mistakes and missed opportunities. Turnovers hurt us," said Manning, who threw a pair of interceptions.
"We had a couple of drops, had a couple of missed throws with guys open on third-down plays. It was better but not where it needs to be."
Manning said he thought the Giants, who revived last season to finish 7-9, were improved from last year.
"Guys were doing the right things, guys were going the right way. We're not having breakdowns, we're not having guys running wrong routes, not having guys doing their own thing that are leading to mistakes," he said.
"We just didn't finish it well."
Jennings said his costly fumble was a first for him, coughing up the ball without being touched.
"I turned around and was about to make a move and the foot slipped, the cleat didn't catch any part of the ground and as I was in a running motion I'm falling and my elbow hit the ground and out comes the ball," he said.
"When you're losing because you're shooting yourself in the foot, it's hard to live with and that's what happened today. We'll learn from it. It's a long season."
Editing by Gene Cherry