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Giants tempt fate again, finally get desired result in win over Dolphins

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You play to win the game. Hello?

The New York Giants have called some controversial plays in late, critical junctures to accomplish that task all season long, and they did it again versus the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. However, there was a key difference between all of their previous attempts and what happened last night:

The play actually succeeded.

And if you were in favor of the call, odds are you’re being a hypocrite.

Situation: The Giants, faced with a third-and-3, are at the Dolphins’ 48-yard line. Exactly two minutes remain, and the Dolphins have no timeouts left. The Giants haven’t been able to run the ball for basically the entire season, but Rashad Jennings’ legs have shown some life on this evening. Moreover, running the ball here and coming up short would leave about 1:17 left before a fourth-down punt that could very well back Miami up inside its own 20-yard line. That means Ryan Tannehill, a gimpy Jarvis Landry and a Dolphins offense which had gained a total of 75 yards in its previous four drives would have to travel 80-plus in around 70 seconds to have any shot at a tie.

So, the answer is obvious to me: The Giants have to run the ball here. They may even get the required three yards to put the game on ice, but if not, they put Miami in an incredibly tough spot where any hope for a win would likely have to come, in part, through multiple defensive breakdowns. And again, that defense has been playing pretty well in this second half.

I, a life-long Giants fan, am yelling at the TV and at my father beside me to run ball. I just start shouting indiscriminately in every direction.

“Run the ball! You’ve got to run the ball.”

Eli Manning drops back to pass.

If you’ve been following this Giants team all year long, you know why such a sight probably caused thousands of G-Men feel like their heart was in their stomach.

Week 1 at Dallas: While running away from pressure, Manning chucks an incomplete pass on third and 1 and with 1:43 on the clock. This saves 40 seconds for the Cowboys, who did not have any timeouts. Dallas uses that time to cut through New York’s ultra-prevent defense and provides the game-winning TD and extra point with just 13 seconds left.

Week 2 versus Atlanta: On third down, Manning gets sacked and loses a fumble at the Falcons’ 8-yard line with the Giants ahead by 10. This occurred in the third quarter, so Manning’s hesitance deserves much more blame than the play call itself, especially when a field goal would have put New York ahead by two touchdowns. Atlanta puts up a 14-0 fourth quarter and goes on to win.

Week 10 versus New England: The Giants are set up with a first-and-goal at the 5. The undefeated Patriots have one timeout and 2:06 remaining. Instead of running on three straight plays, thereby forcing the Patriots to use their final TO, lose the two-minute warning and ticking off another 40-plus seconds after that, Manning uncorks two incomplete passes and then slides for a sack on third down. One of those passes was a TD to Odell Beckham Jr. that was overturned upon review. Milliseconds more of possession change the entire game, but the rules — and the outcome of the review — are what they are. After a field goal, the Patriots are left with 1:47 to go get their game-winning field goal. Yes, Landon Collins can’t catch, but if the Giants had called three runs in that goal line set, Tom Brady and Co. would have had slightly more than a minute to get that field goal. Stephen Gostkowski’s kick went through the uprights with a single second remaining.

Week 13 versus Jets: Perhaps the Giants’ most boneheaded decision in a season full of them, they forego a short field goal attempt that would have given them a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter for a fourth-down pass from Manning to Rueben Randle. The throw gets picked off, which is inconsequential. But the Jets then get the 10 points they need in the final five minutes to force overtime and claim victory in the extra session.

After that Jets loss, Tom Coughlin defended the decision to go for it on fourth down by saying, “If we scored there and fourth-and-2, then we push the score up to where maybe they can’t beat us with whatever.”

That is true. If that play is successful, the Giants get at least another first down or perhaps a touchdown to put the game out of reach. But this meaningless 20-20 hindsight can be applied to all of the situations described above.

IF Manning completes his third-down pass or simply falls down in bounds, the Cowboys don’t have enough time to mount that comeback.

IF Manning doesn’t fumble, the Giants might tack on the points they need to keep the Falcons at bay.

IF the touchdown pass to Beckham stands or if Manning’s throw to Dwayne Harris on the succeeding play is complete, the Giants defeat the Patriots.

If all of those situations work out for the best, the Giants are 10-3, and everyone is kissing Tom Coughlin’s feet, talking about how much guts and resolve he and his team have.

But the fact is the Giants are a bad team trying to work through a ton injuries and even more flaws. When weighing the risk versus the reward, Coughlin must be aware (he must be, right?) that his quarterback is operating behind a patchwork offensive line, with a mess of mediocrity at running back and one reliable receiver.

Back to Monday night, Eli Manning drops back to pass. The play call is relatively safe as Manning looks to that one reliable receiver on a simple 5-yard hitch route. And although Manning throws a Roy Halladay-quality sinker, Beckham is able to get his hands under the ball.

Game over. Big win. Stupid call. 

If Beckham can’t handle that poor throw, we might be sitting here on Monday roasting Coughlin and his lieutenants for displaying an inexplicable brand of NFL insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.

You can imagine the media inquisition now:
“Why would they do that again?”
“How can they not learn from their past mistakes?”
“Just how dumb is this team?”
“Why don’t they know how to manage the clock?”
“Should the Giants fire Tom Coughlin now or 20 minutes from now?”

But Beckham made the catch, so it’s all good. 

Again, if you have complained about the Giants’ late-game playcalling prior to Monday night and then agreed with their decision to leave the game in Eli Manning’s hands once again, understand that you are being a hypocrite exercising institutional outrage. The result was what the team desired, but know that the Giants were literally inches away from making the same, bold, ignorant mistake they’ve made before, which has led directly to at least three of their losses.

Monday night’s outcome has probably emboldened the Giants and their coaching staff, giving them the confidence that, sure, this group can go for the throat when it needs to. A look at the roster says that’s probably false hope and that it will fail more often than it succeeds under those circumstances. Just because it worked once doesn’t erase all of the failures that occurred in weeks past and doesn’t make it a harbinger.

But last night also means we probably haven’t had our last discussion about the Giants’ late-game decision-making.

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