A few days ago, in a Giants’ full team meeting, coach Brian Daboll showed the team a clip from ESPN’s documentary “The Captain” on Derek Jeter. In the doc, there’s a play with a 1998 outfield miscue that prompted Yankees pitcher David Wells to throw up his hands in disgust. Jeter, just 24 then, went to the mound and said to Wells: “Hey, we don’t do that s— around here.”
Daboll knew the kind of team he had. To be kind, his first edition of the Giants is not exactly a Super Bowl winner. He knew there could be some tough days ahead, and maybe lots of them. So he followed the clip by telling the team: “We don’t do that s— around here either.”
So now it was Sunday in Nashville, halftime, and the Giants weren’t doing much right, and the outside world had already given up on the ’22 Jints. “My god the Giants are bad,” Tweeted Pro Football Talk managing editor Michael David Smith. “Dave Gettleman left behind as bad a roster as I can remember any GM leaving any team.” Smith wasn’t alone. Tennessee was up 13-0 at halftime, and fans watching Big Blue on TVs from Asbury to Ansonia, from New Paltz to New London, clicked over to find something, anything to take their minds off the start of another miserable year.
Ninety minutes later, they were clicking back. Ninety minutes later, as the Giants, down 20-13 with three minutes to play, were driving for a touchdown, Daboll asked five defensive players, separately, “Hey, when we score, we’re going for two — you okay with that?” Five for five, yes. His team’s not a democracy, but as Daboll said later, “Those are the guys out in the battle, laying it on the line. I want to make sure they’re okay with going for it all right there. They were like, ‘Hell yeah.’
“The one thing I’ve said to them is, ‘I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. But I can guarantee you the one thing you’ll never call me is afraid.’”
So right then, with the Giants 22 yards away from the end zone, Daboll said into his headset to offensive coordinator and offensive play-caller Mike Kafka, “Get your two-point play ready.”
One of the reasons the NFL, at the dawn of the league’s 103rd season, has cornered the market on ratings and just plain fun is because of days like Sunday. Fourteen games, and how many were chalk? Kansas City pantsing the Cardinals, one. Baltimore routing the Jets, two. Washington outlasting the Jags, three. The Chargers nipping Vegas, four. Those you could figure.
But who saw the Cowboys scoring three points against Tampa Bay, or the Falcons building and blowing a late 16-point lead on the Saints, or the Steelers going into Cincinnati and forcing Joe Burrow into five turnovers, or the Bears in the muck and mire of Soldier Field beating the Niners by nine, or the Dolphins having zero trouble with the Patriots, or a kicker you’ve never heard of booting what could have been a 70-yard field goal to lift the Browns over Baker Mayfield, or the Colts tying Houston, or the Packers playing like the 2008 Pack in a 16-point loss to Minnesota, or the Giants being competitive with last year’s AFC one seed, Tennessee?
In training camp, the Giants had their share of very bad offensive days. Quarterback Daniel Jones struggled, as did supposed franchise back Saquon Barkley. Some of it, Daboll said, was by design. He explained why on the Giants’ team bus to the Nashville airport Sunday night.
“I think you owe it to your team to teach them how to deal with adversity,” Daboll said, the humming of the bus on the road audible behind his voice. “In camp, we put the offense in some terrible, terrible situations — I knew it’d be a miserable day for the offense. That’s okay. I want to see how Daniel and Saquon and the coaches, even, respond. I think I owe that to the team. So they all get through that, and they’re better for it. Will we always win on a two-point play? No. But like I told them last week, I have confidence in you guys. I want you guys to be aggressive out there. I want to be like I tell the quarterbacks to be — aggressive, not reckless.”
So the Giants, with 66 seconds left, made it 20-19 on a one-yard Jones to Chris Myarick TD flip. The Titans are stout in the middle of the defense, led by the irrepressible Jeffery Simmons. But to Daboll, it made more sense to try to make two yards with a hot running back and a quarterback who’d played well save for a nightmare interception…than to risk overtime. Remember his last game in Buffalo? The Bills lost the toss in overtime, Kansas City took the ball, and Daboll’s red-hot QB, Josh Allen, never touched the ball again.
You can try to make two yards with a back who’s gained 194 yards on the day already, or you can cast your fate to the wind of the overtime coin toss.
“The play Kafka called is one we’ve worked on since the spring, and there’s a lot of different ways to do it, but Mike called a good version of it,” Daboll said. “Me going for two, I think that was aggressive, not reckless.”
To go or not to go…Next Gen Stats analytics had it close, but liked Daboll’s call. NGS says going for two and succeeding — because there was still 66 seconds on the clock for Tennessee — the Titans had a 46 percent chance to win the game with a field goal. But had Daboll chosen to kick the PAT, Tennessee would have had a 61 percent chance to win the game in regulation or overtime.
Also: NGS estimated a 60-percent chance of success going for two with the ball in Barkley’s hands, slightly better than a Jones pass. Interesting, the shovel pass technically was a Jones pass — even though it was more of a shovel-handoff that so many quarterbacks use these days and counts as a pass.
The play had a major false flag, with backup wideout Richie James speed-motioning from left to right. Total decoy. Jones took a shotgun snap and took a couple steps to the right, while Barkley ran toward the middle of the line as if to block. Suddenly Jones underhanded a shovel-pass to Barkley, who grabbed it, evaded linebacker Dylan Cole (who grabbed Barkley’s facemask briefly at the five-yard line) and catapulted himself near the goal line between corners Roger McCreary and Kristian Fulton. Barkley battled through the traffic and burst past the goal line into the end zone, landing on his back. Giants, 21-20.
“Do or die,” Barkley said. “I really don’t know how it happened.”
At halftime, Daboll gave his team what more and more coaches are telling their players these days, in all sports: “Let’s not worry about the scoreboard. Let’s play the next play. That’s it.” The Giants won a big game Sunday, but you wouldn’t be reading this if Tennessee kicker Randy Bullock hadn’t hooked his 47-yard field goal at the gun wide left. But think of the near future. The Giants play at home the next three weeks, with rookie edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux due back from a knee sprain soon, in games they should be competitive in: Carolina, Dallas (without Dak Prescott) and Chicago. Play the next play. That’s it. With Barkley playing like the back of Dave Gettleman’s dreams, you never know.