Like every close game in the NFL, the Giants' 19-17 loss last night to the Philadelphia Eagles promoted a review and debate on numerous key points. Coach Tom Coughlin mentioned many of them in his day-after news conference this afternoon.
The rundown included the Giants' run defense in the second half (when they gave up 172 yards on the ground after allowing only 19 in the first half), an Eli Manning pass that was intercepted in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter ("I think Eli would tell you, just should not have thrown it," Coughlin said), and the squandering of field position by the Giants' offense.
But the talk obscured what to Coughlin is the most salient point about any game – who won or lost.
"The game was in hand, we let it get out of hand," he said. "All the analysis afterwards is fine and dandy and that's what we all do for a living, myself included. Analyze, analyze, analyze, and try to figure out where it went astray.
"It's not hard to figure that out when you look at the total body of effort, but on the other hand, we were there to win the game and we didn't get it done. That hurts. Remorse for opportunity lost, and you see it in the eyes of the players today, you see it in the eyes of the coaches today. There wasn't any sleep here because there wasn't any sleeping. As soon as you lay down, it came right to you, 'Why didn't you win the game?' It's no fun when it doesn't work out the way you planned for it to work out."
Coughlin didn't back away from dissecting the game's key moments. The most critical occurred in the final minute. Trailing by two points, the Giants, aided by two defensive pass interference penalties on the Eagles' cornerbacks, had driven to the Philadelphia 26-yard line with 25 seconds remaining. Ahmad Bradshaw's one-yard run had placed the ball in the center of the field for what would have been a 44-yard field goal attempt to win the game by Lawrence Tynes.
The Giants, who had no timeouts, could have perhaps run Bradshaw again and let Eli Manning spike the ball to stop the clock. Perhaps they could have Manning throw to a receiver who ran a short out route. Instead, Manning through down the field to Ramses Barden, who was penalized for interfering with Nnamdi Asomugha. That pushed the Giants back 10 yards. After a Manning pass to Domenik Hixon fell incomplete, Tynes' 54-yard try fell just short with eight seconds remaining.
Today, Coughlin delivered a blunt assessment of the strategy.
"The penalty really, really hurt us," he said. "That's the way we play. We've been able to do that by virtue of putting the ball in the hands of the quarterback. Having him make good decisions, etc., etc. This one didn't work out. Would we change? Yeah, sure, today you would. Today it's easy. You have the ball at the (27) and you run it once to the 26, you run it again and put it in the middle of the field. But there's no guarantees that a 44-yard or 46-yard field goal are going to be easily handled either.
"If I were to do it over myself, would I be as conservative with 15 seconds? Not this morning. This morning, I would throw it to the sideline or something of that nature and take a chance on that. What happens if you get a sack there? What happens if you try to fit one in tight, and it gets, whether you catch it or not, you get tackled in bounds? Game's over. Last night, I chose to do that, knowing full well that the clock was not in our favor, we had no timeouts. I fully expected the type of coverage that would take the short throw to the sideline away from us. I'm not going to know whether or not that was the case because we didn't try it. I take full responsibility for that, and as I told the players, I'll start the meeting off by talking about my sins, and that is one that I'll confess to."
Manning, who has been the NFL's best quarterback in tight situations in the fourth quarter, strongly supported the route followed by the Giants.
"I think we go with the same approach," Manning said. "Obviously, you can try to run the ball there and do different things and kick a 44-yarder. Obviously, if you knew what was going to happen on that play, that's what you do. But I think I just could have thrown the ball differently. Probably just throw it back shoulder with the way the corner was playing, so you don't put Ramses in a situation where he is worried about the absolute worst thing that could happen is an interception. That's what you can't have occur. Then (it's) game over, you don't even have a shot. So I just could have put the ball in a better spot."
Manning said the Giants' had few options with time running out.
"It's risky and it all depends on what defense they're playing and you never know," he said. "You can try to get, obviously, something to the sidelines. They would probably take that away. They're going to play some sort of… probably a two-man technique where it's going to be tough to hit anything on the sidelines and they're going to probably tackle you in bounds and then it's just… You can say if you throw a little five or six-yard pass, you could probably spike it, but you just don't know if that's available and you don't know what's going to happen. There are a lot of maybes in that situation. I think if you run another play, you risk the possibility of not having an opportunity to kick the field goal and win the game."
With the game on the line, the Giants prefer to play aggressively and take advantage of Manning's ability to perform superbly in the clutch.
"That's the way we usually play unless the clock is radically against us," Coughlin said. "If it was under 20 seconds, that would have been a different story. It wasn't, so what we've been able to do with success has been to continue on the attack. We feel quite frankly that with our quarterback that's the way we should play. Do you have to be reasonable and smart? Yeah, sure you do. We had a run, that run was for (one yard). We take another shot and, quite frankly, that could have been controlled as well, but it wasn't."
All that being said, Coughlin said Tynes still could have made the kick had the snap and hold been executed flawlessly. Tynes' career-long field goal is 53 yards, which he's done twice, most recently in 2010.
Tynes actually tried the kick twice. The first was long enough but was wide left. It was nullified because Eagles coach Andy Reid called timeout just prior to the snap.
"It was 54, we knew that," Coughlin said. "Coming down we talked about, 'Hey, we need to have the ball at the 35.' The ball ended up at the 36, didn't have a lot of choice there. To be point blank honest with you, it wasn't a perfect execution of the kick. The snap wasn't great, getting the ball down wasn't great. I think it did interfere with the flow and the rhythm of the kicker, whereas he had kicked it long enough but to the left on the timeout play. … I don't think we got those five seconds back on the clock either. It went from 15 to 10 and I don't think it ever got put back to 15. When we line up to kick, this time he kicks it right square down the middle, but the mechanics of the whole deal, I don't think he got his best foot into the play because of it. It was probably two or three yards short, which had we been able to pick up five yards, he would've been right on the mark."
Because they got neither the yards nor the field goal, the Giants were left with a defeat that will be open to analysis for some time to come – at least until Sunday, when they host the Cleveland Browns.