By Brad Carroll
There's no sugarcoating how terrible the New York Giants' loss to the Dallas Cowboys was Sunday night in the season opener. The Giants, who many believe won't even come close to a playoff berth, were within seconds of upsetting one of the NFC's favorites to reach the Super Bowl on the road and possibly taking a major step in gaining the confidence needed to set up another magical season.
The Giants, however, couldn't hold a 10-point lead with eight minutes to go, allowing Tony Romo and company to score two straight touchdowns, sandwiched between a much-talked about field goal drive, to shock the Giants and their fans. Before those two scoring drives by Dallas, the Giants defense was the star of the night, forcing two Romo interceptions and recovering a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. They nearly had two touchdowns on defense, returning one of the Romo picks to the one, setting up a scoring run by Rashad Jennings.
But it will be tough for anyone to forget the Giants defense allowing the Cowboys to put together two straight six-play, 70-plus yard drives to win the game, including the final touchdown pass with seven seconds to play. The defense came up small in the biggest series of the game, getting gashed in the short passing game by Lance Dunbar first and then by Jason Witten late. The sudden turn of events was nothing short of a disaster
It shouldn't have come down to the defense, however.
First, I have no problem with the decision to throw the ball on third and goal from the Cowboys' one. The Giants ran the ball twice after reaching the four with 1:50 to play, gaining three yards on a pair of Jennings runs. On third and goal from the one, the Giants easily could have pounded the line again, hoping Jennings could gain one more yard and put the game away with a touchdown. In retrospect, they obviously should have done that. But trying a play-action pass and going for what could have been an easy score, in theory, as the Cowboys defensive front, and then some, were focused completely on the run, isn't a terrible play call.
If it works, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and coach Tom Coughlin are gun-slinging, chance-taking heroes. So is Eli Manning. The Giants win the game, as the Cowboys would have zero chance to win. The play call would have be lauded.
It didn't work, though, and many after the game were destroying the play call as a horrible decision, one that cost the team the game.
Well, while it's true the play call did allow the Cowboys to go downfield and win the game, it was more the execution of the play call that cost the Giants the game.
Perhaps because he's done so much good for the Giants and their fans, winning two Super Bowls, nobody wants to pin the blame for the loss on Manning. But there was no doubt Manning's boneheaded decision to throw the ball away on that fateful third and goal play from the one that cost the Giants the game.
Manning should know more than anyone on that field that he couldn't throw an incomplete pass. Yet, not only did he throw incomplete, he actually threw the ball away after not finding an open receiver. There wasn't a defender around Manning, either, so there was no pressure to unload the ball to avoid the hit.
In that situation, Manning's options were simple. Either throw the ball into the end zone, knowing there is at least a good chance it will be completed for a touchdown, or, if there are no options to complete a pass, go down and let the clock run. In this situation, Manning could have waited until a defender came close and then simply took a knee. Or have done it immediately.
There was plenty of time to see this play out as well. Nobody was open, Manning was on the outside without pressure, all he had to do was sit on the ball. If he does, the Giants waste another 40 seconds off the clock, leaving the Cowboys with 47 seconds and no timeouts to go the length of the field to score a winning touchdown, instead of 1:27, an eternity in today's NFL, where offense rules.
Sure, the Cowboys still could have scored a touchdown in those 47 seconds to win, but remember how easily Dallas moved the ball downfield? Well, they scored with seven seconds left. Forty seconds is a huge amount of time to have taken away. It changes the play calling from dumping the ball off to Dunbar and letting him run in the middle of the field, to forcing the ball downfield to pick up huge chunks of yards quickly, which of course, increases the chances of the Giants ending the game with an interception.
So, while you can argue all you want about how terrible a play call the Giants made on third and goal from the one, and there is nothing that says you're wrong, if Manning simply makes the smart, right play, the Giants win the game. To his credit, Manning knew after the game he messed up.
"It was bad clock management," Manning said. "It was definitely an option to take a sack and run 40 seconds off the clock and give them less time. That's 100 percent on me."
Coughlin said after the game the play call was poor, and the Giants should have run the ball. He also said they would go for the win in that situation. That, of course, is hindsight, as if Coughlin knew the play call was bad when it was called, he could have vetoed it and told McAdoo to run it. He could have also told McAdoo on first and goal to run the ball three straight times. But he obviously didn't.
The play call might have been bad, but one mental mistake by Manning is what truly cost the Giants the game.