You don’t have to be a football expert to know that time management cost the Giants a win in the team’s season-opening game on Sunday night. Leading the rival Dallas Cowboys by three points with two minutes to play, quarterback Eli Manning found star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for a 16-yard gain to move the ball inside Dallas’s five-yard line. The clutch throw converted a 3rd-and-14 and appeared to allow New York to do one of two things: either score a touchdown to go ahead by two possessions or run the clock down to one minute and kick a field goal.
Neither of those options happened, though. After running Rashad Jennings on first down and second down (neither carry reached the end zone) and forcing the Cowboys to use both of their remaining timeouts, the Giants elected to throw a pass on 3rd-and-goal from the one-yard line. When Manning’s attempt fell incomplete due to pressure from Dallas’s defensive front, there was still well over one-and-a-half minutes left to play.
If the Giants had just run the ball on 3rd down they would have either scored a touchdown to put the game away or gotten stopped and left Dallas with about one minute to mount a comeback. The decision to pass left Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo with just enough time to engineer a game-winning touchdown drive that left Giants fans around the country shocked and disappointed.
“The responsibility for the management of time and the play calling decisions etc. etc. are mine,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin following the 27-26 defeat. “Therefore, the responsibility goes to me and nobody else. And all the other jibber-jabber, whatever is going on out there, simply comes down to the fact that we were within striking distance of being 10 points up. And that’s all I ever wanted - was to get back to the 10 point lead.”
Not all the Giants were on board with that plan, though. Manning told Jennings to stay out of the end zone in order to wind the clock down, because the quarterback believed that Dallas had just one timeout remaining following Beckham’s reception. Instead, Dallas was able to keep its second timeout due to an offsides penalty by its own Demarcus Lawrence on the Beckham play. Even though the Giants elected to decline the foul, it still resulted in a clock stoppage that saved the Cowboys a timeout.
“I thought with the decline, they would just have one timeout,” Manning said. “So I thought that they may let us score to get the ball back, so that’s why I informed Rashad if they let you score, just go down at the one-inch line. Don’t score. He still ran hard, we got two yards on first down and second down.”
If Dallas did indeed have one timeout left on 1st down, the Giants would have been able to run the clock down to almost nothing before kicking a field goal on 4th down. Instead, the team found a way to lose a game that appeared to be wrapped up.
“To be honest with you, nothing like that has ever happened,” said Coughlin.” [Manning’s] mind was in the right place here, he just didn’t have all the facts right, and unfortunately we didn’t get it corrected.”