A few days ago, at a Giants team meeting, Coach Brian Daboll showed the team a clip from the ESPN documentary The Captain of Derek Jeter. In the documentary, there’s a 1998 outfield miscue play that caused Yankees pitcher David Wells to throw up his hands in disgust. Jeter, then just 24, walked up to the hill and said to Wells, “Hey, we don’t do that here.”
Daboll knew the kind of team he had. To be fair, his first edition of the Giants isn’t exactly a Super Bowl winner. He knew he had some tough days ahead, and maybe many of them. So he followed the clip by telling the team, “We don’t do this either.”
So 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 suck,” he tweeted Pro football talk Editor-in-Chief Michael David Smith. “Dave Gettleman left as bad a roster as I can remember for a GM to leave a team.” Smith wasn’t alone. Tennessee was 13-0 up at halftime and fans watching Big Blue on TVs from Asbury to Ansonia, 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 clicked back. Ninety minutes later, with the Giants down 20-13 with three minutes left and going for a touchdown, Daboll asked five defenders individually, “Hey, if we score one, we go for two — you ok with that?” Five for five, yes. His team isn’t a democracy, but as Daboll later said, “It’s the guys out there in the fight who are risking it. I want to make sure they agree to do everything. They said, ‘Hell yeah.’
“The only thing I said to them is, ‘I’ve been named many times in my life. But I can guarantee that you will never call me a fear.’”
So just as the Giants were 22 yards 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 won the 103rd at the start of the leagueapprox season, has cornered the odds market and is just plain fun on days like Sundays. Fourteen games, and how many were chalk? Kansas City pants the Cardinals, one. Baltimore heads the Jets, two. Washington outlasts the Jaguars, three. The Chargers grab Vegas, four. The ones you could imagine.
But who saw the Cowboys get three points against Tampa Bay, or the Falcons build a late 16-point lead over the Saints, or the Steelers go to Cincinnati and force Joe Burrow to do it five Turnovers, or the Bears in the dirt and swamp of Soldier Field beating the Niners by nine, or the Dolphins having no trouble with the Patriots, or a kicker you’ve never heard of, which is a 70-yard Field goal could have been lift the Browns over Baker Mayfield, or the Colts play Houston, or the Packers play like the 2008 pack in a 16-point loss to Minnesota, or the Giants compete with last year’s AFC Tennessee?
In the training camp, the Giants had their share of very bad offensive days. Quarterback Daniel Jones struggled, as did alleged franchise back Saquon Barkley. Some of this, Daboll said, was intentional. He explained why Sunday night on the Giants team bus to the Nashville airport.
“I think you owe it to your team to teach them how to deal with adversity,” Daboll said, and the hum of the bus on the road could be heard behind his voice. “At camp we put the offensive in some horrible, horrible situations – I knew it was going to be a miserable day for the offensive. That’s okay. I want to see how Daniel and Saquon and even the coaches react. I think I owe that to the team. So they all get away with it and they get better. Will we always win in a two-point game? no But like I told you last week, I have faith in you. I want you guys to be aggressive out there. I want to be like I tell quarterbacks to be — aggressive, not reckless.”
The Giants made it 20-19 with 66 seconds left with a one-yard flip from Jones to Chris Myarick. The Titans are in the middle of the defense, led by the irrepressible Jeffery Simmons. But for Daboll, trying to go for two yards with a hot running back and a quarterback that had played well save for a nightmarish interception made more sense than risking overtime. Do you 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 go for two yards with a back that’s already gained 194 yards that day, or you can throw your fate to the wind at the coin toss in overtime.
“The play Kafka called is one we’ve been working on since spring and there are a lot of different ways to do it, but Mike called a good version of it,” Daboll said. “I went in twos, I think that was aggressive, not reckless.”
To go or not to go… Next Gen Stats Analytics was close but liked Daboll’s call. NGS says that with two hits and success — because Tennessee had 66 seconds left on the clock — the Titans had a 46 percent chance of winning the game by field goal. However, had Daboll elected to kick the PAT, Tennessee would have had a 61 percent chance of winning the game in the rule or overtime.
Also: NGS estimated a 60 percent chance of success on two with the ball in Barkley’s hands, slightly better than a pass from Jones. Interestingly, the scoop pass was technically a Jones pass — although it was more of a scoop handover that so many quarterbacks use these days and counts as a pass.
The game had a big false flag, with backup wideout Richie James dashing left to right. Total decoy. Jones fired the shotgun and took a few steps to the right while Barkley ran toward the center of the line as if to block. Suddenly, Jones played a scoop pass to Barkley, who grabbed him, dodged linebacker Dylan Cole (who briefly grabbed Barkley’s face mask at the five-yard line), and catapulted himself near the goal line between corners Roger McCreary and Kristian Fulton. Barkley fought through traffic and charged past the goal line into the end zone where he landed on his back. Giants, 21-20.
“Do or die,” Barkley said. “I really don’t know how it happened.”
At half-time, Daboll gave his side what more and more coaches in all sports are telling their players these days: “Let’s not worry about the scoreboard. Let’s play the next piece. That’s it.” The Giants won an important game Sunday, but you wouldn’t be reading this if Tennessee kicker Randy Bullock hadn’t hit his 47-yard field goal far left. But think about the near future The Giants will play at home for the next three weeks, rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux will soon return after a knee sprain, and should be competitive in games in: Carolina, Dallas (without Dak Prescott) and Chicago. Play the next piece. That’s it. With Barkley playing like the back of Dave Gettleman’s dreams, you never know.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column