“There shouldn’t be any questions about how hard our guys fight,” Shurmur said during his postgame news conference. “We’ve just got to execute a little better.”
Shurmur’s decision to go for two can be defended; it was applauded, in fact, by the analytics crowd. But there’s no defending how the Giants handled the game’s final moments.
They trailed by 11 points, 23-12, and needed two scores as they drove down the field in the closing minutes. They had no timeouts left and reached the Atlanta 1-yard line in the final minute. Rather than throwing the football into the end zone and either scoring a touchdown or stopping the clock, Shurmer had Manning attempt a quarterback sneak, not once, but twice. And both times, Manning was stopped shy of the goal line as the clock ticked down.
By the time Manning threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Beckham on third down and followed that with a two-point conversion, only five seconds remained. Even a successful onside kick would not have helped the Giants at that point.
“From the 1-yard line there, we’ve got to get it in,” Shurmur said. “We didn’t …. You should be able to convert on a sneak.”
Shurmur’s two-point decision also sparked plenty of debate, although it was far less egregious. Traditionalists, both on the ESPN broadcast and on social media, hated the move. Those who track football analytics maintained it was the proper call.
The Giants scored on a touchdown run by rookie tailback Saquon Barkley with less than five minutes remaining, cutting their deficit to 20-12. They could have kicked the extra point, trailed by seven points and hoped for another touchdown and extra point to tie and force overtime — or a touchdown and a two-point conversion to win. Instead, Shurmur called for the Giants to try for two. If successful, the Giants could have won with a subsequent touchdown and extra point.
“We’ve discussed internally the math on that …. I felt like I wanted to be aggressive for our guys,” Shurmur said.
Shurmur isn’t the only coach to feel that way. Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson, so celebrated for his aggressiveness when the Eagles won last season’s Super Bowl, has done the same thing under similar circumstances this season. The Giants failed on their two-point attempt and trailed by eight points, and the deficit became 11 on a long field goal by the Falcons.
“You increase your chances by 50 percent if you go for it and make it there …. I think it’s an aggressive approach,” Shurmur said.
The debate over the two-point try and the widespread mockery of the Giants’ clock management overshadowed a 27-for-38, 399-yard passing performance by Manning. Beckham had eight catches for 143 yards. Fellow wide receiver Sterling Shepard had five catches for 167 yards.
But in truth, the Giants’ offense wasn’t as good as the numbers suggested. They failed on a fourth-down gamble by Shurmur from the Atlanta 1 in the third quarter. They had only six points until the final five minutes. They failed to do much until the very late stages of the game against a depleted, generally dreadful defense that’s spent much of the season letting down quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense.
“Can Eli still get it done? Yeah,” analyst Booger McFarland, the former NFL defensive lineman, said on the ESPN postgame show. “But he needs everything perfect around him. And it’s not.”
No, it’s certainly not. The offensive line remains lacking, as Manning was sacked four times. Barkley was not as dynamic as usual. The result was all too familiar for the Giants, who are 4-19 since the start of last season.
The end of Manning’s distinguished career with the Giants will be ugly and it will be sad. That is ensured at this point.
The Giants used the No. 2 overall selection in this year’s NFL draft on Barkley, indisputably a great player but also not a quarterback, and have no successor-in-waiting to Manning. That decision has been revisited enough by now. Everyone knows about Beckham’s recent interview with ESPN in which he questioned the Giants’ offensive scheme and failed to endorse Manning. Most took note when Giants co-owner John Mara publicly rebuked Beckham last week by saying that he wants to see Beckham make headlines with his play and not with his words.
This team is headed nowhere and its season has been reduced to a depressing, unceremonious march toward Manning’s exit, perhaps by retirement, and the arrival of a new quarterback, most likely in the very early stages of next year’s draft. Would the Jacksonville Jaguars or another team rescue Manning and the Giants by trading for him by next Tuesday’s deadline? That seems doubtful.
There’s not much left to see here, except when the Giants find new and creative ways to embarrass themselves like they did Monday night.