In a league in which coaches and quarterbacks almost always determine the outcome of a team’s season, the Giants were decidedly lacking on both counts Sunday in what may have been the final blow to an unlikely playoff run.
The Giants had a chance to win a third straight game and pull within two games of the NFC East lead, and it seemed as if they might actually do just that by thoroughly outplaying the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles through most of the first half.
Up 19-3, first-year coach Pat Shurmur was pushing all the right buttons and 37-year-old Eli Manning was making all the right throws in dominating a team that already was on the ropes at 4-6.
And then came the moment of convergence for the coach and the quarterback that turned the game around and effectively ended the Giants’ flickering playoff hopes.
With the score 19-11, Manning had driven the Giants to the Eagles’ 27 with 19 seconds remaining in the half. Time for two more plays, either to get a touchdown to go ahead 26-11 or at least kick a field goal and go into halftime with an 11-point lead.
Shurmur got aggressive against the Eagles’ Cover 2 defense – whose secondary was ravaged by injuries – and called for Manning to throw deep over the middle to Odell Beckham Jr. As Manning faded back, safety Malcolm Jenkins drifted back toward the goal line to provide added pass protection and make sure Beckham wouldn’t be open.
But Manning decided to heave the ball anyway, even though there was no room to complete the throw and running back Saquon Barkley – who already had scored two touchdowns in a magnificent first half – was wide open in the left flat. Jenkins intercepted it at the 2, dissipating all of the Giants’ momentum.
After the Giants’ 25-22 loss, the coach and the quarterback each took the blame for what happened.
“I baited him into that,” Shurmur said. “That’s not on Eli. That’s on me. played way softer than I thought they would play.”
“Just a bad decision, 100-percent bad decision on me,” Manning said. “They were playing soft and I just have to throw that away and try for a long field goal.”
The Giants never recovered. Manning, who threw for 236 yards and a touchdown before his interception, had only 61 passing yards in the second half and produced only three points.
A poor play call from the coach and a poor decision from the quarterback, who has made far too many of them in what likely will be his final season with the Giants.
Shurmur and Manning had rekindled some hope after back-to-back wins over the 49ers and Buccaneers. And it seemed at least plausible early in Sunday’s game that the Giants were capable of beating the Eagles. Instead, poor performances by both men at the end of the second quarter and through the second half doomed their team.
Shurmur couldn’t adequately explain why things went so haywire in the second half, other than to blame penalties and poor execution. But he certainly was guilty of questionable decision-making, particularly by barely using Barkley after the rookie had run for 94 yards and a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass in the first half. Barkley had just four carries for 7 yards and one catch for 4 yards in the second half.
“The offensive coordinator and the head coach are coaches for a reason,” said Barkley, who declined to second-guess the play-calling. “They know what they are doing and they’re putting us in the position to win.”
Sorry, Saquon. No, they weren’t. Not this time. There was simply no excuse not to stick with heavy doses of Barkley in the second half, especially after the Eagles failed to contain him in the first.
Shurmur’s offense was stuck in quicksand after sustained early success, and it’s on the coach for failing to find a way to continue it. Especially against a defense missing its three top cornerbacks because of injury.
Which leaves the Giants with almost no hope of making a run. Just getting to 8-8 would require them to win all of their remaining games.
Let’s be real here. This team is not going to run the table. Not after blowing a chance to keep a spark of hope alive. Not after the coach and the quarterback flopped with the game – and the season – on the line.