This strange local NFL season of ours is about, among other things, trying to figure out what the Giants and Jets have in their head coaches, and whether they have the goods for long stays.
So far, so good with Todd Bowles, who in his third season has the young Jets playing like one of the most interesting and motivated teams in the NFL.
As for the Giants’ Ben McAdoo, let’s put it this way: He really, really needed that 23-10 upset of the Broncos Sunday night to stabilize a regime that seemed to be teetering in only his second year on the job. With injuries having erased most of the receiving corps and a clumsily executed suspension of Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie — oh, and also that 0-5 start — things were about to go from messy to meltdown.
As usual, McAdoo was not helping himself with his approach to public communication, which is poor. He makes the laconic Bowles seem like Rex Ryan in comparison.
Then, suddenly, came Sunday’s shocker. It was a triumph, on many levels. That includes Coach McAdoo, who deserves credit for steering the ship away from the iceberg, at least for now.
It started with something that could not have been easy for an offense nerd like him. During the practice week he handed play-calling duties to coordinator Mike Sullivan. McAdoo said he felt the entire team needed his full attention, presumably at least in part a reference to the DRC saga. He also insisted the decision was his, as outsiders wondered whether organizational voices had whispered it in his ear.
On his day-after call with reporters Monday, he said he found the experience liberating.
“I felt my personality came out a little bit more last night than maybe it normally has,” he said. “I was still involved with the offense. I had a chance to buzz around and be around all the players, let my energy come out a little bit more maybe than I have in the past.”
We’ll take his word for it. Anyway, it worked.
Then there was the offensive strategy itself, which also was a compromise for a head coach, coordinator and quarterback who would like to be creative and chuck the ball around a bit. The Giants mostly ignored their green wideouts and instead focused their attack on rookie tight end Evan Engram and running back Orleans Darkwa. And, sure enough, that worked, too, with Darkwa gaining a career-high 117 yards against what had been the top-ranked run defense in the NFL.
“The way things were going and the matchups and the way our defense was going, it was best just to stick with it and play conservative,” Eli Manning said.
Finally, there was the off-the-field hubbub around Rodgers-Cromartie, a key member of the secondary, whose suspension unfolded in slow motion and whose situation McAdoo did not formally address with the team until Friday. It could have been something that created tension between a coach and his players, but there was no sign on Sunday of anything other than a united front.
“He just stayed affirmative,” safety Landon Collins said. “He knows what kind of team we have. He just harped on the defense to make it a defensive game. That’s what we tried to do, and that’s what we came out and did.”
Said tackle Justin Pugh: “He’s the same guy. He just keeps coming in and pushing us hard. He’s a great coach. I’ve been around him so long, I’m used to him, and I’m happy we got this win for him and his staff.”
There are 10 games left, games that are unlikely to produce a late playoff push but still could demonstrate enough stability to calm fears that McAdoo’s rookie season was beginner’s luck. That is not the kind of thing Giants fans thought they would be talking about come late autumn. But that is what they’ve got.