This one’s on Pat Shurmur.
All of it.
His team was humbled at rain-swept MetLife Stadium, 27-21, by the Arizona Cardinals, and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury. But it was the Giants’ coach who needs to take the blame for a loss that dropped them to 2-5 and has them teetering on the edge of slipping out of a realistic chance at a playoff run.
Not that Shurmur’s team even deserves a shot at the postseason, not with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones already showing signs of regression after a splendid debut just five weeks ago. But Shurmur’s shoddy work down the stretch on Sunday offered more disturbing evidence that he simply isn’t putting his team in position to win.
Forget the fact that the Giants came out flat after what should have been a refreshing 10-day break after losing to the Patriots in Foxborough. The Cardinals surged to a 17-0 lead by the early part of the second quarter, prompting the Giants to fight from behind the rest of the way.
But the far more consequential coaching decisions came when itthey mattered most, when the Giants needed a steadying hand and clear-thinking presence on the sidelines. They had battled back to within a field goal at 24-21 with 8:13 to play as Saquon Barkley scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to cap an excellent 82-yard drive.
Shurmur’s first mystifying misstep came with 4:29 left in regulation, just before the Cardinals were about to punt from their own 46. Shurmur took his first timeout there, a head-scratching decision that began the second-guessing. Why burn a timeout then? Because he didn’t want to take 45 seconds off the clock, he said.
It got worse from there.
On the Giants’ next possession, they were faced with a third-and-18 from their own 30 with 3:11 to play — still plenty of time left. Shurmur called a draw play to Barkley, which went for just 3 yards. But rather than do the sensible thing and punt on fourth-and-15 from the 33, Shurmur decided to go for it. Jones fumbled at his own 23 after being sacked on a cornerback blitz by Patrick Peterson.
“I had planned to go for it, and we just didn’t execute the play as well as we liked,” Shurmur said of the Barkley draw. “I had made the decision at that point I was going to go for it.”
Barkley played the good soldier and defended the sequence.
“I think it’s a great call,” he said. “We knew we were going to be in two-down territory. It’s third-and-18. They played it well. But if they drop back like most of the teams do on third-and-18, I think you’ve got one of your best playmakers on the field with the ball in his hands.”
Now, we’re all for a coach being aggressive when the situation presents itself, but this simply wasn’t one of those situations. This was the time to play it smart, punt the ball and let your defense try and stop the Cardinals — which they’d been doing for most of the second half. That’s why burning the timeout earlier was a mistake. Save it for when you need it on a defensive stop — or if and when you get the ball back on offense.
It’s basic situational football, and Shurmur needed to play it there.
Shurmur refused to second-guess himself, blaming poor execution — and not play-calling — for the Giants’ failures. He would have been a lot better off falling on his sword and saying he was at fault. He did no such thing.
“We had the ball with a chance to score a touchdown to win the game,” Shurmur said. “That’s how it played out.”
But had he made the more sensible decision to punt the ball and the Giants stopped the Cardinals, then the Giants would have had far better field position with a chance to at least tie the game with a late field goal or else win it with a touchdown. Instead, after the Cardinals had made it a six-point game by kicking a field goal after the Jones fumble, the Giants’ only chance was to score a touchdown.
They did get the ball back at their own 12 with 2:02 left, but Jones got no farther than the 23 and ran out of chances on a desperate incompletion from his end zone on fourth down with 34 seconds left.
Neither Barkley nor any other Giants players second-guessed the late moves. “Look, [Shurmur] is the leader of this organization, and I’m not going to question anything he does,” veteran receiver Golden Tate said. “He has his reasons and my job is to run the plays that he calls. I’m not the head coach. Maybe one day I might be one, but his decision, that’s the decision that he thought was going to give us a chance and we ran it.”
It was the wrong decision at the wrong time, and the Giants paid for it. Shurmur can’t afford many more bad calls, because his team has come perilously close to playing — and coaching — its way out of contention.