Pat Shurmur’s record as the Giants’ coach is 1-6, which is all the confirmation that matters that he has done a bad job and has a bad team. Some truths are self-evident.
But the circumstances of Monday night’s latest flop, a 23-20 loss to the Falcons, illustrated that reality beyond mere wins and losses.
Shurmur made some bold, debatable decisions that for a better team on a better night might have been celebrated, but for this team on this night represented one failure after another.
By the end of his postgame news conference, it was impossible not to feel a little bit bad for the guy. As reporters methodically asked about one unsuccessful play after another, he finally said, “Anybody want to ask me about a good one?” There was silence.
The decision that got the most attention was attempting a two-point conversion when trailing 20-12 with 4:47 remaining.
At first glance, it was a shock and seemed reckless. But analytics nerds insist the strategy makes sense. Long story short: The advantage of being down six points rather than seven is greater than the disadvantage of being down eight rather than seven.
“I just felt like we discussed internally the math on that,” Shurmur said. “I felt like we had a good play and I liked our two-point play selections and we just didn’t quite get it done.”
Eli Manning threw a bit behind Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone and he failed to catch the catchable ball. “Hey, I thought we liked our two-point plays and got close to hitting that one,” Manning said. “We have to execute that a little better, but if the coach says go for two, we go for two.”
Far less defensible was what happened with the Giants trailing 23-12 with a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, no timeouts and the clock ticking under a minute.
Twice in a row, Shurmur had Manning charge into the line for no gain as the clock bled away. When Manning finally threw to Beckham for a touchdown, only five seconds remained, so even a recovered onside kick would have done little good.
“You have to get them in,” Shurmur said. “We’re sneaking from the 1.” But why run sneaks with a guy like Manning when throwing the ball unsuccessfully at least stops the clock? “That’s a defeatist feel,” Shurmur said. “You should be able to convert on a sneak. And we’ve all seen him do that. For whatever reason, we just didn’t get it done.”
Said Manning, “We’ve been pretty good with the sneaks all year. In that scenario, just try to surprise them and get that one yard on the sneak, and we just didn’t have success with it.”
There was more where that came from. Early in the third quarter, Saquon Barkley was stopped on a strange play on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line on which he came across the formation to take a handoff.
On the next play, Shurmur went for it on fourth down. Manning rolled right, failed to see Beckham briefly open, then threw incomplete into a thicket of players that included third-string tight end Scott Simonson.
“Initially I thought Odell had popped open from my view,” said Shurmur, whose frustration was caught by ESPN’s cameras. “The coverage was probably a little tighter than what I had seen.”
Then there was a third-and-2 completion to Barkley that lost 8 yards. “We thought we were getting man, we got zone, and Saquon got knocked back,” Shurmur said. “That was a bad one.”
What about that play on which Manning scrambled 7 yards but was knocked out of bounds just short of the pylon, preceding the two aforementioned stops on third and fourth down?
“I thought Eli did a good job on that thing, but like a lot of things in the game, we fell about this far short,” Shurmur said, indicating a small distance. “We wouldn’t be talking about all this other stuff had he gotten in.”
But he didn’t.
It’s what bad teams do.