For the 2015 New York Giants, It’s all just a matter of time. From the time they didn’t use up in Arlington to secure a victory last week to the time that slipped away to inhibit a comeback attempt yesterday, all that is really keeping the Giants now from being atop the NFC East is their control – or lack thereof – of time.
After two weeks, two losses and a sense of gloom and doom arising from its fan base, how much time does Tom Coughlin have left in rescuing what looks to be another lost season? For the third time in as many seasons, the New York Giants open a campaign 0-2, with yesterday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons somehow ranking as painful as the one that got away against the Dallas Cowboys last week, when Eli Manning’s lapse in judgement in throwing the ball away allowed the Cowboys to have enough time to pull off a last-second win.
What must hurt the most for Giants fans after seeing their team drop their second straight game is the fact that they can’t say Big Blue played poorly overall. Like last week’s game in Dallas, New York was able to effectively run the ball and control the clock. Again, they consistently won the field position battle. Again, they built a double-digit lead after three quarters, with a chance to make it a three-possession game late in the third quarter yesterday.
It was that time again…for things to become pear-shaped once more.
Holding a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter, New York had a third down and two from the Atlanta 8-yard line – the perfect time to effectively put the game on ice. Manning, who had an efficient game overall, scrambled out of the pocket only to be hit from behind by Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann, who stripped Manning in the process and allowed the Falcons to recover the fumble at the 9-yard line.
The time for the Falcons comeback had arrived.
“You know, we played hard for a long time, we played hard,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin at the post-game press conference. “I would have definitely come in front of you and said it was an improvement over the first game.
“We’ve been doing a superb job of taking care of the ball…Eli [Manning] obviously did not see the player from behind and the ball came out. But that hurt, no question.”
Adding insult to injury, the Falcons offense, which had consistently moved the ball against the Giants defense but only had 10 points to show for that endeavor after 45 minutes, finally got into the end zone again on the ensuing possession, with Leonard Hankerson’s 10-yard touchdown catch on third down cutting the Giants’ lead to 20-17 with 12:46 left in regulation.
The time for Giants’ supporters to get the feeling of déjà vu had come.
Two drives later, after the Giants’ defense forced an Atlanta punt, New York was faced with a third-and-7 from just inside their own 40 with 3:27 left and and coming back onto the field for the pivotal play after the Falcons burned a timeout to save time. But instead of not burning time off, which was New York’s error fatal error last week, New York committed just as careless of a blunder: being penalized for a delay of game after a timeout. Faced with a third-and-12 now, Manning could only complete a short pass that was well short of the first down, forcing the Giants to punt and setting up Atlanta’s last-drive heroics.
“There’s no reason for [a delay of game],” Coughlin said. “There was plenty of time when we were out over the ball, plenty of time. I think the only reason I can offer is, [Manning’s] changing the protection around and he loses track of the clock.”
Not having an awareness of time is one thing, but the Giants, specifically on a defensive play call late in the game, were also guilty of bad timing. On the first play after the two-minute warning and with the Falcons at the Giants’ 38, New York decided to blitz safety Trumaine McBride and, in turn, leave cornerback Prince Amukamara to cover Julio Jones – who had caught 12 passes in the game at that point – one-on-one. Jones, playing with a tender hamstring, made that already curious defensive strategy seem even more daft when he beat Amukamara’s attempted jam at the line of scrimmage and sprinted down the near sideline to haul in Ryan’s bomb for an apparent go-ahead touchdown.
Bad enough, right?
Now, back to the Giants’ poor clock management. Jones was deemed to have been touched down by Amukamara one yard short of the goal line after a review, which meant that the clock was going to star after the ball was spotted and the clocks reset. With all three timeouts at his disposal, Coughlin decided not to call one before the first-down play, letting the Falcons run off almost 25 seconds of game and play clock before running back Devonta Freeman was stuffed on first-and-goal. New York called timeout after that play, but Freeman plunged over the goal line on his second-down effort, giving Atlanta an improbable 24-20 lead.
The touchdown came with 1:14 left, with the Giants having two timeouts. If the timeout was called before the first down play, the Giants would have had about 1:35 remaining and one timeout to save the game…as well as save face. New York should have known that 20 or so seconds could prove the difference in a game just from the happenings in Arlington last week.
Alas, it didn’t matter too much on Sunday. New York’s last-ditch effort on its final drive fizzled at midfield, as Preston Parker, who has dropped multiple passes in the first two games and heard derisive cheers when he did hold on to pass, couldn’t hold on to a Manning attempt at his shoe tops on fourth down.
“Finishing the game, getting the game done and finished the way we want it to, obviously we’re struggling with that,” said Coughlin.
The truth is that the Giants, even with the season less than a quarter old, will be up against it when taking on Washington on a short week this Thursday at MetLife Stadium. Only 11.7 percent of teams since 1990 have made the playoffs after starting a season 0-2, a number that drops even more precipitously if that turns into 0-3.
There’s still time for the Giants to turn around their season. But managing time, more than anything else, might be Big Blue’s biggest challenge going forward.
[Cover photo (Julio Jones/Prince Amukamara) courtesy of Alex Goodlett/Getty Images]