Ben McAdoo stood before his team in the middle of the locker room after another hideous loss that put the Giants in a stunning 0-2 hole and threatened to blow apart their entire season.
He told his players the blame should go one place and one place only.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told the players,” McAdoo explained a few minutes later during his news briefing after a 24-10 loss to the Lions at MetLife Stadium. “Put the game on me.”
The assessment was simple. It was to the point.
And it was accurate.
McAdoo has presided over a miserable start to a season that was preceded by what appeared to be genuine optimism about a potential Super Bowl run. McAdoo himself talked openly about practicing into January and February — a not-so-subtle hint that he believed strongly in his team.
But after two straight losses, one more disheartening than the next and symptomatic of an offense that McAdoo has been unable to fix, the coach is right to put it on him.
“We’re not playing complete, complementary football,” McAdoo said.
He pointed to a sequence in the first half, when Jason Pierre-Paul forced a fumble of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on a brilliant sack. One play after the Giants recovered the fumble, Eli Manning threw an interception.
“We had a turnover in the first half, then we come back and turn the ball right back over,” McAdoo said.
Then there was the fourth-quarter sequence that for all practical purposes ended the game.
“We get a stop and a chance to get the ball back, we give up a punt return for a touchdown,” he said of Jamal Agnew’s 88-yard punt return that made it 24-10. “Just too many issues. We’ve got to play and feed off of each other, and we’re not doing that right now, and I’ve got to find a way to make that work.”
Credit McAdoo for putting it on him, because it’s the appropriate message to send to a team that is flailing around right now and incapable of establishing the kind of rhythm and cohesiveness that marked last year’s 11-5 team that made it to the playoffs in McAdoo’s first year as a head coach. He pushed all the right buttons last year, getting the Giants to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
But this year, he hasn’t been able to address systemic problems on offense that trace back to the second half of last season. The Giants have now failed to reach 20 points in eight straight games, including Monday night’s loss and the 19-3 clunker in Dallas last Sunday night.
“We dug ourselves into a hole,” McAdoo said. “No one feels sorry for us. We’ve got to find a way to get better and get better in a hurry.”
He’s right about that. The Giants now face a brutal stretch against playoff-contending teams, starting with Sunday’s game at the Eagles. There are road games against the Buccaneers and Broncos, and home games against the Chargers and Seahawks.
McAdoo knows if he doesn’t figure this thing out ASAP — especially on offense — this season might be doomed by the halfway mark.
“We’ve got to score more,” Manning said. “Not going in the right direction enough, not converting on third downs enough. Just not executing enough on third downs in the green zone, some critical moments.”
Manning himself was at fault on a fourth-and-goal from the 2 in the third quarter. McAdoo wanted to go for it and sent a play in, but Manning was called for a delay of game, and the Giants had to settle for a field goal.
“I’ve got to call a timeout or get it snapped,” Manning said. “Any time there’s a delay of game, it’s on the quarterback, and I can’t afford it right there.”
McAdoo did not mince words about Manning.
“Sloppy quarterback play,” he said of the delay-of-game penalty. “Quarterback and the center need to be on the same page there. We’ve got to get the ball snapped.”
Why not call a timeout?
“Because we have a veteran quarterback who has played a lot of football,” McAdoo said. “I expect us to get the ball snapped.”
McAdoo said Manning had “some good moments, and some moments that weren’t what we were looking for. I didn’t like the interception when we got the turnover. The defense took the ball away. You know, it happened fast for him. He was under duress all night. I thought he did some good things in the pocket, making some plays under duress, but the whole offense needs work. We’re not in rhythm right now.”
No, they are not. And if they continue to play losing football the way they have the first two weeks, then it will be a stunning fall from grace in a season that seemed filled with such expectation.