It seems no matter what decision Tom Coughlin makes this season, it’s wrong.
He plays for a field goal late against the Cowboys in the opener, then tried to throw on third down, and he gets burned. He tries to throw the ball for a game-winning touchdown late against the Patriots rather than run and leaves Tom Brady with enough time to beat him. So really, there’s no guarantee that a change in his thinking in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game would have altered the outcome of a 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets.
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It’s a stink-if-you-do, stink-if-you-don’t team, and Coughlin has had to choose between stenches through the first 12 games.
Sunday he erred on the side of aggressiveness. After holding the ball for more than 11 minutes and running 16 plays to get to fourth-and-2 at the 4 with 8:42 remaining in regulation, Coughlin decided to go for a touchdown that would have put the Giants ahead by 17 rather than a field goal which would have made it a 23-10 lead and forced the Jets to score two touchdowns to win the game.
Of course, Eli Manning threw an interception on a pass to Rueben Randle in which the receiver stopped his route. And of course the Jets scored that touchdown and field goal to tie the score at 20 at the end of regulation.
Coughlin stood by his decision.
“I thought that was the play,” he said. “After the long drive and the amount of time used up on the drive, I thought that that was the play at the time. I still do . . . If we score there, then we push the score up to where maybe they can’t beat us with whatever. So we’re up 17. I stand by it.”
The Jets had scored just 10 points in the first 41-plus minutes of the game, so what made Coughlin think they could score two touchdowns in the final eight and a half had he gone ahead by 13?
“Did you see them do it?” he asked of the marches down the field for the late-game points. “That’s what made me think it.”
It wasn’t just that decision that doomed the Giants. There were plenty of other opportunities (and decisions) that led to the loss. Odell Beckham Jr. dropped a touchdown he had in his hands in the end zone for the second time in three games. The Giants settled for a field goal after their lone takeaway of the game gave them the ball at the Jets’ 10. On third-and-goal from the 1 on that drive, the Giants tried running into the teeth of the league’s top rushing defense and lost a yard.
And then, the final indignity: Josh Brown, one of the few unblemished Giants this season, missed his first field-goal attempt of the season in overtime.
Despite all the agony, all the second-guessing, all the what-ifs, the Giants are still in the thick of an NFC East race that got a little thicker thanks to Philadelphia’s win over New England on Sunday evening. The Giants and Eagles are both 5-7 and Washington is in first place at 5-6 with a Monday night game against Dallas (3-8).
“I’m going to be cheering for Dallas hard,” Justin Pugh said. “I’m hoping Dallas goes and handles some business tomorrow and at that time we’re still tied for first.”
Even if they are not, there is no indication any team is poised to run away with the division in the final quarter of the season. Coughlin noted that it was hard to “bring your team up after the game” when they continually lose in such gut-punching fashion, but they still have four games remaining.
“You never know until you’re not in it,” Beckham said. “We go 9-7 and we get in by the hairs on our chinny chin chin.”