Leaving aside the issue of New York’s poor defensive play — that unit allowed Tony Romo to drive his team 72 yards in just six quick plays — the lion’s share of the blame for the defeat fell on quarterback Eli Manning and Coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin was castigated for apparently signing off on a third-down pass play at the goal line, and Manning left jaws agape by throwing the ball away when no one was open rather than taking a sack, thereby stopping the clock and unnecessarily giving Dallas some crucial seconds.
On Monday, we learned that there was an even more remarkable element to the ill-fated goal-line sequence: Manning had told running back Rashad Jennings not to score. Jennings got the ball on first down (from the 4-yard line) and second down (from the 2), and after he did not cross into the end zone, the Giants called for the pass play.
“On the first-down play, I was told, ‘Rashad, don’t score,'” Jennings said (via ESPN). “On second down, ‘Rashad, don’t score.’ I was tempted to say, ‘Forget it,’ and go score because I could. But I didn’t want to be that guy. But definitely, I was asked not to score.”
Manning acknowledged Monday that he had unilaterally given that directive to Jennings. Here is is explanation, via ESPN’s Dan Graziano:
Eli Manning: "I thought they only had one timeout after the play to Odell, so they might let us score to get the ball back...— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) September 14, 2015
Eli (cont'd): "So I told Rashad, go down at the one-inch line and don't score. This did not come from the sideline."— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) September 14, 2015
Eli (cont'd): "I cannot be the one to inform a back. That's not my decision, to do that in that scenario. I made that mistake."— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) September 14, 2015
Eli said he told coaches of his plans before 2d down, "thought we were on the same page, and I was wrong. That was my fault."— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) September 14, 2015
The confusion over how many timeouts Dallas had apparently stemmed from a clock stoppage after New York’s Odell Beckham Jr. caught a third-down pass that took his team to the 4-yard line. Play was briefly halted at that point, but that was because the Cowboys had jumped offside (a penalty the Giants declined), rather than because the Cowboys had called a timeout, which was what Manning assumed.
Dallas had used a timeout before Beckham’s catch, so Manning thought that, on Jennings’ first goal-line carry, the team would be forced to use its final timeout if the running back did went down before scoring. When Dallas was able to call yet another timeout after Jennings’ second carry, Manning and the team were thrown for a loop, leading to their decision to throw the ball.
Coughlin on Eli confusion over timeouts: "It's never happened before. I completely trust Eli. Always have. He's extremely into the game."— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) September 14, 2015
Coughlin on Eli: "His mind was in the right place here. Just didn't have the facts right."— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) September 14, 2015
Coughlin took the rap for the pass play, but Manning told reporters, “And then on third down, not taking the sack there. I’ve got to do a better job.”
The Giants were certainly expecting a better job not just in Sunday’s game, but for years to come, considering that, just a few days ago, they gave Manning a four-year, $84 million contract extension, with $65 million guaranteed. Now the quarterback will need to live up to that salary and then some, as even an 0-1 start can be hard to overcome, especially with a divisional loss, in the NFL’s sprint to the playoffs.