If the plays he called and the strategies he employed had worked in the Giants’ favor, coach Pat Shurmur might have been lauded for his gutsiness and belief in his players after Sunday’s game against the Cardinals.
But they did not work. The Giants lost, 27-21, and among the numerous elements of that disheartening defeat were Shurmur’s curious decisions late in the fourth quarter.
“The reality of it was we didn’t make it, so I’m standing here with the scrutiny of not making it,” he said on Monday. “I get that . . . We all live with the decisions we make. The ones that we make that don’t work, we have to live with it and you try to learn from it.”
The crucial calls came during the Giants’ penultimate possession. They trailed by three and had the ball at their 25-yard line with 4:23 remaining. Eventually, they faced a third-and-18 at their 30 with about three minutes left. Shurmur decided it was a two-down situation, but the results were awful. First, the Giants ran a draw for Saquon Barkley, who gained 3 yards. On fourth-and-15, Daniel Jones was sacked on a cornerback blitz and lost a fumble.
Shurmur said of the third-down call: “Saquon took that same play and went for 68 yards against Dallas last year, so I wanted to make sure he stayed involved. It popped through the first level. We didn’t probably block it as well as we needed to at the second level, and then that created a minimal gain instead of a large gain.”
The minimal gain probably should have adjusted the Giants’ thinking on fourth down. Rather than go for it because they had determined to do so a play earlier, a punt might have been a better option, given the weather (a rainy sky and a slick football can make it difficult to field a punt) and the tone of the game (Jones was under steady duress by the Cardinals and needed extra time merely to allow receivers to get 15 yards off the line, a luxury hard to come by).
“Anything could change anything as you go along,” Shurmur said of the third-down result affecting the fourth-down decision. “The flip side of it is if you punt the ball away, you may never see it again . . . We had two timeouts and the two-minute warning. We did stop them and made them kick a field goal, and we still had another opportunity to go in there and win the game.”
That final Giants possession, which began with 2:02 remaining — the Giants lost seven seconds and 13 yards when rookie Darius Slayton took the kickoff out of the end zone and was stopped at the 12 — went nowhere because of pressure on Jones. He was sacked twice and hit hard on his final pass, which fell incomplete.
Asked if he would do the same thing in the same situation next time, Shurmur didn’t say yes or no.
“In the moment, that’s the decision I made,” he said. “When you sit back and you look at it after the fact, you always evaluate it. That’s hypothetical right now.”
What isn’t hypothetical is the heat that Shurmur is getting for the decisions.
“The things that happened at the end of the game did not work out in our favor, so we’ll evaluate it and move on,” he said. “I do believe in our players, I trust that we are going to try to put them in position to make plays and I trust that they will . . . You try to make decisions that are best, and I think we all as coaches understand when things don’t work out, you are open to criticism. When you don’t win games, you’re open to criticism. We get that. The only thing you can do is get back to work and try to win the next one. I think that’s the real deal.”