Fourth-and-short punt to Chiefs deals Giants critical blow

Kansas City Chiefs kick returner Dexter McCluster (no. Kansas City Chiefs kick returner Dexter McCluster (no. 22) runs past Giants defenders for a touchdown during the second half. (Sept. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A foot and a half.

That's how far Victor Cruz was from a first down when he caught a pass from Eli Manning on third-and-17 late in the third quarter. He originally was given enough yardage to convert it into a first down, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid successfully challenged the spot. The ball was moved back to the 30-and- a-half-yard line to set up fourth down and those 18 inches to go.

The Giants' offense had been unable to get a push all game, so Tom Coughlin decided to make the "safe" move from his own territory and punt the ball.

This year, though, nothing is safe for the Giants. Steve Weatherford booted a deep punt and Dexter McCluster returned it 89 yards for a touchdown to give the Chiefs a 17-7 lead in their 31-7 win over the Giants.

Cruz, for one, thought the Giants should have tried to convert the fourth-and-short even though they had failed miserably on third-and-1 in the previous series.

"If it was me, yes, because we had the momentum," Cruz said of going for it. "I felt like it was a yard, not even a yard, a half a yard. We gotta take a risk at some point and make something happen."

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Failing to convert would have given the Chiefs the ball deep in Giants territory, and the negatives certainly seemed to outweigh the positives there. The Giants converted only one of 14 third downs in the entire game.

"If anybody tells you coach Coughlin should have went for it right there, after we had a similar situation and didn't get it on the third-and-1 with the toss to [David] Wilson, then you're an idiot," Justin Tuck said, defending the call.

So Cruz is an idiot?

"When it comes to coaching, yes," Tuck said. "Who goes for it on fourth-and-inches from the 30-yard line when you're in a dogfight?"

It was the field position that ultimately scared Coughlin away.

"If it hadn't been on our 30, I would have gone for it," Coughlin said.

"It's Coach's decision," Cruz said. "I'm not getting into Coach's head. It was Coach's decision to do what he had to do. He's the head honcho, he makes the call. I just have to go out there and abide by his rules."

Like this season, the punt returned against the Giants represented a complete breakdown. The punt was too close to the middle of the field, Coughlin said, although McCluster caught it at the numbers and Weatherford defended his placement.

"All things considered, it was a pretty good punt," he said. "It wasn't a perfect punt, but it wasn't a bad punt."

Then the gunner, Damontre Moore, overran McCluster. Mathias Kiwanuka and Zak DeOssie had chances to make the tackle but didn't. Keith Rivers, the last man with a reasonable opportunity for a stop, appeared to simply fall down.

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It was the second punt returned for a touchdown against the Giants in three weeks. They hadn't had one before that since DeSean Jackson of the Eagles in December 2010.

"We can't let that happen," Spencer Paysinger said. "It's happened too much this season. You never want to give a team momentum. If you give a team momentum, that's death right there."

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