The New York Giants’ latest defeat came with howls that they failed in clock management once again. This problem reared its ugly head in a season-opening 27-26 loss at Dallas in which Eli Manning apparently told running back Rashad Jennings not to score after the two-time Super Bowl MVP lost track of how many timeouts the Cowboys had used. Coach Tom Coughlin said of the botched ending: “That was a bad decision on my part. There’s nobody else to blame but me.”
A defeat by that same 27-26 score, this time to unbeaten New England, put New York’s end-game process in the crosshairs once again. Most of it centered on how the Giants had the ball, down 24-23, with a first-and-goal with 2:06 left and only one timeout left for the Patriots. New York ended up throwing twice – the first a fateful incompletion to Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone, originally ruled a TD on a play that ended at 2:01, which gifted New England an extra timeout.
On third down, Manning rolled out, didn’t find an open receiver and slid down for a sack that forced Bill Belichick to call his final timeout with 1:56 left. Manning did this mindful of how he threw incomplete in such a situation in the Dallas game, but either way, the Patriots knew what was coming.
“When the Giants got down, they tried to run that roll-out pick play that they like,” Belichick said. “We defended that and got the ball back.”
Many have wondered how New York could only run the clock down from 2:06 to 1:50 when Josh Brown’s go-ahead field goal went through considering that the Patriots had just one timeout plus the two-minute warning. The conventional wisdom is that three straight running plays would have done enough to run down the clock sufficiently, though ESPN’s Bill Barnwell points out that that scenario would still have left New England with about 1:10 left and changed its play-calling on the winning drive.
What is more interesting is what preceded the goal-to-go situation for New York, which made its most glaring error at that point. We’ll start with the aftermath of the play that seemed to put the Giants in a commanding position to win, Manning’s 30-yard pass to Dwayne Harris that converted a 3rd-and-4 and gave them a first down on the 28-yard line.
New York snapped the ball with 2:34 left with Harris in the slot on Rashaan Melvin. The receiver caught it and was tackled with 2:27 left when Belichick eventually made the critical move of using his first timeout, leaving 2:14 on the clock.
The Giants clearly then came out with an intent to run, lining up in a power formation with Manning under center and a personnel unit that featured blocking tight end Jerome Cunningham, fullback Nikita Whitlock and Rashad Jennings in the backfield. Jennings ran for 5 with a lead block from Whitlock, making it 2nd-and-5 on the 18-yard line and causing New England to call its second timeout with 2:10 left.
And this was where New York made its biggest mistake. Manning lined up in the shotgun with Jennings flanking his right and Whitlock to his left. Cunningham was gone and three receivers were in – Harris to the left, Beckham in the slot and Rueben Randle out right. The Patriots, who used a single high safety the previous play, now had every defender within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Top Pats DB Logan Ryan pressed Randle, who eventually released and cut inside with an open field in front of him. Beckham and Whitlock ran underneath and Jennings went into the flat. But Manning saw none of this since he had locked in on Harris – as you can see below – who was again singled up on Melvin. Manning found Harris on the sideline for an 18-yard gain before Melvin pushed him out with 2:06 left. An 18-yard gain and a first down, good for New York, right?
Actually that play ended up helping the Patriots – and not just because Harris going out of bounds preserved another timeout for them. With a 2nd-and-5 at the 23, the Giants were already in good shape for Josh Brown – who was 22 for 22 on field goals to that point.
At this juncture, the best way for New York to control the clock – and thus avoid giving the ball back to Tom Brady – was to pick up the five yards over the next two plays without going out of bounds and without scoring. That way, Brown could have kicked a winning field goal on the game’s final play.
Instead the Giants curiously went to a passing formation and ran one of the routes near enough to the sideline – Harris’ matchup – that the wideout could be forced out. The Giants’ linemen had all won their blocks on the previous play, so a run or even a play-action pass out of the I-formation to manipulate New England’s secondary may have been preferable as long as the runner remained inbounds.
Once Harris went out, the Patriots were guaranteed to get the ball back and it forced the Giants to try for a touchdown in a goal-to-go situation. Credit Belichick for using his first timeout outside the 2-minute warning to help his team’s chances. Some blame certainly goes to Manning, Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo for an aggressive approach that wasn’t necessary on a 2nd-and-5 prior to the game’s decisive moments.
Photo By: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson