Don’t blame wide receiver Terrance Williams for the Dallas Cowboys’ collapse on Sunday. Linebacker Sean Lee made that much clear in assessing the defensive effort after a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants.
The defense couldn’t make a six-point lead stand in the final 13:59. They couldn’t get the ball back late in the fourth quarter until after the Giants had run almost three minutes off the clock.
That put pressure on the offense to make something happen in the final 65 seconds, and Williams became the scapegoat for not running out of bounds in the final seconds.
But the defense shares just as much of the blame.
“To be honest, defensively we should have given the offense more timeouts,” Lee said.
The defense had put together a solid second half until late-game struggles.
Cornerback Brandon Carr had his first interception since Thanksgiving Day 2013 on the second play of the second half. Giants quarterback Eli Manning tried to get the ball to rookie Sterling Shepard, but instead threw it right into Carr’s hands.
Carr dropped to his knees to ensure he’d hold onto the ball and it appeared to be a turning point in the game. The Cowboys’ offense took advantage of the short field with a touchdown drive, scoring on an 8-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott.
That marked the first of four consecutive Giants’ offensive drives in which the Cowboys’ defense shut them down.
Defensive end Benson Mayowa came through on a drive with a third-down sack to force a punt, and safety Byron Jones batted a ball away on another third-down play to force a punt.
But those all went for naught with how it ended.
“Very disappointing,” Carr said. “To let it all fall apart in the end is tough. But we have to learn from this game, put it to bed.”
The Giants avoided the shutout in the second half with a nine-play, 54-yard TD drive early in the fourth quarter to take a 20-19 lead. Manning went 4-for-6 on that drive, capped with a 3-yard TD pass to Victor Cruz.
But the defense had a chance to come through late in the game when the Giants got the ball back with 3:57 left at their own 23. A three-and-out would have given the offense plenty of time to get into field goal range.
But the Giants gained two first downs, milking 2:52 off the clock.
The silver lining for the defense is the Carr takeaway and two sacks. Those are two areas that must improve from last season, a year in which the Cowboys only had 31 sacks and 11 takeaways.
But the defensive players weren’t looking to sugarcoat the day.