PITTSBURGH — Fourth down used to be the Giants’ down. It was when they were at their most dangerous, whether it was being aggressive on the game-winning touchdown against the Bengals or going for it to set up a pair of scores against the Bears.
Against the Steelers on Sunday, it proved to be their downfall in a 24-14 loss.
Ben McAdoo’s penchant for aggressively chasing touchdowns rather than field goals didn’t work out for the first time this season as the Giants were 0-for-3 on fourth downs, two of them coming at key moments in the game.
The first one was a fourth-and-1 from the 3 early in the third quarter with the Giants trailing 14-0. Eli Manning’s pass intended for tight end Will Tye over the middle was incomplete, broken up by linebacker Ryan Shazier.
“We need to score touchdowns,” McAdoo said after the game of his decision to go for the end zone rather than put the team’s first points on the board, a tactic teams traditionally will use in that situation, particularly on the road. “A field goal wasn’t going to do the trick.”
The Giants drove to the 3 on the back of three catches by Odell Beckham Jr. for 39 yards and a 18-yard run by running back Paul Perkins in which Beckham was used as a diversion by motioning into the backfield. On fourth-and-1, Manning tried to thread a pass into Tye.
“They brought a lot of pressure,” Manning said. “[I] tried to hit it quickly with them coming. I didn’t see the final result of it . . . I was getting hit at that point.”
Perkins appeared to be open on the left side.
Tye, a Stony Brook University product, said he should have caught it. “He was on my back, but I made the best of it that I could,” Tye said, suggesting there should have been a pass-interference call. “Any ball that comes my way, I should definitely catch it.”
The Giants’ defense responded by forcing a fumble, and the offense quickly scored its first touchdown of the game to make it 14-7.
The Steelers were ahead 21-7 by the time the Giants faced their second important fourth down. This one came on fourth-and-13 from the Steelers’ 35. Manning rolled to his right and tried to throw a cross-field pass against his body to Sterling Shepard, but the floating ball never reached him and was intercepted by Sean Davis with 11:23 left in the game.
The Giants faced a third-and-13 from the Steelers’ 35 on the play just before the pick. Manning tried to hit Beckham at the sticks, but Mike Mitchell broke up the pass. It was a surprising play call considering the Giants were almost certainly in four-down territory. Instead of nibbling at the yardage needed, they went for it all on third down and left themselves with the long fourth.
Asked if Manning was forcing passes, McAdoo said: “Maybe he was on some fourth downs.”
The Giants entered Sunday’s game 6-for-11 on fourth downs this season. They went 0-for-3 on Sunday.
n Situation: 4th-and-1 at PIT 3 with 8:58 left in third quarter:
Result: Eli Manning incomplete pass to Will Tye
n Situation: 4th-and-13 at PIT 35 with 11:42 left in the game:
Result: Manning intercepted by Sean Davis
n Situation: 4th-and-9 at PIT 24 with 7:04 left in the game:
Result: Manning sacked by Ricardo Mathews