by Jordy McElroy
Leave it to New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur to still come out with egg on his face even in the most impossible of situations.
No one expected the Giants to survive their Thursday Night Football encounter in Foxborough with the unbeaten New England Patriots. They were coming into the game with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones leading an offense decimated at the skilled positions. There was no Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard or Evan Engram when facing what is clearly looking to be one of the NFL’s all-time great defenses.
Couple that with the fact that Patriots coach Bill Belichick has more toys on defense than a Christian Grey basement, and it was clear the Giants didn’t have a shot at competing, much less winning. Of course, the unpredictable nature of the NFL would expose the idiocy behind that line of thinking as the Giants were very much in the game until the fourth quarter, when Shurmur opted for a moral victory rather than trying to win a football game.
On a fourth-and-two from the Giants’ 33-yard-line, with the team trailing 28-14 and a little more than seven minutes left in the game, Shurmur made the decision to punt the ball back to the Patriots instead of going for it. It seems he figured the Patriots would play nice on a final possession and run out the clock, effectively ending the game with a two-touchdown victory.
But Shurmur must have forgotten what team he was playing against.
The Patriots promptly shattered any post-game pats on the back the Giants thought they’d receive by marching the ball down the field and scoring their fifth touchdown of the game.
Shurmur had an opportunity to prove his trust in the offense by giving them a chance to convert the late fourth down. Given the time left on the clock, it should have been an all-or-nothing drive in a desperate attempt to score more points and eat into the Patriots’ lead. It was a game no one expected the Giants to win anyway. So there really were no good reasons for Shurmur punting the ball away.
The worst part is his refusal to accept the fact that he made a bad decision. When questioned by reporters about the decision after the game, he called it the “right thing to do.”
No, it was the wrong thing to do.
That was a character-building moment for Jones left on the field in that game. It was a moment that NFL quarterbacks, particularly great ones, consistently face in clutch moments. Shurmur essentially robbed his quarterback of that moment by waving the white flag and calling it a night.
What if Jones managed to convert the fourth down and drive his team down the field for another touchdown? The ball would have gone back to the Patriots’ shaky offense with an energized Giants defense fighting to give Jones a chance to tie the game.
If the roles were reversed, would Belichick make the decision to punt in that situation?
One of the hang-ups regarding Shurmur accepting the Giants job was the skepticism surrounding his ability to lead as a head coach. Playing it safe won’t guarantee you a job in a league with perennial turnover. Shurmur should know that better than anyone after being ousted by the Cleveland Browns in his second year as head coach.
Jones looks to be everything the Giants organization ever dreamed of in their long search for a viable replacement to two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning. The last thing they can afford to do is stunt his growth with diminished confidence.
We can spend an eternity going down the dilapidated road of what ifs, but it only took Shurmur a few seconds to decide he wouldn’t even try to go for broke and put the game in his young quarterback’s hands.
Perhaps the greatest irony is his Giants met the same end he desperately tried to avoid.