The New York Giants have been historically bad at closing out games this season.
Giants are 1st team to have 5 losses when leading with 2 minutes or fewer remaining in game since 2001 Chargers.— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) December 6, 2015
Let's do something different today. Because there are five of those inexplicable losses, and today is "Five things I think I think" day, let's use that to take a painful stroll down memory lane. We will look at how each unfolded, and try to assess some blame.
The Giants went from a near 99 percent certainty of winning this game after a Josh Brown field goal gave them a 26-20 lead with 1:37 to play, to losing on an 11-yard pass from Tony Romo to Jason Witten with :07 left.
The controversy here came because the Giants did not manage the clock well at the end of the game. The Giants did force Dallas to use its final timeout with 1:43 to play, but chose to pass the ball on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. In retrospect, this was the first sign of two things. First, the Giants' inability or lack of belief in their ability to run near the goal line. Second, the belief Tom Coughlin expressed Tuesday that they had to try and take pressure off their defense.
For me, the biggest culprit in this game was Eli Manning. First, apparently telling Rashad Jennings to try not to score a touchdown that would have sealed the deal. Second, for throwing an incomplete pass on third down rather than taking a sack that would have run another 35 seconds off the clock. Could or should the Giants have run there? Probably, and Coughlin and Ben McAdoo take a hit for that, but it would have worked out the same if Manning had never thrown the ball.
Week 2: Falcons 24, Giants 20
The Giants went from a 97.1 percent chance of winning when they held a 20-10 lead with 5:01 left in the third quarter to a second straight crushing loss.
Yes, the defense gave up another game-losing drive in the closing minutes. As has been the pattern all season, though, the failings of the offense put the game in the hands of a defense that was never really expected to win games. It was only expected to do enough give the Giants offense a chance to win games.
The Giants had a chance to make this a three-score game, but Manning fumbled when sacked on third-and-2 from the Atlanta 8 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
The offense failed twice to salt the game away in the fourth quarter. Once, driving to the Atlanta 39 before stalling and punting. The second time taking over with 4:24 left and a 20-17 lead. and failing to generate a single first down. A delay of game and then a curious play call, throwing a 5-yard pass to Geremy Davis on third-and-12 doomed the drive.
This marked the first failing of the four-minute offense.
Week 8: Saints 52, Giants 49
Can't absolve the defense at all in this one. Not when you give up 52 points, more than 500 passing yards and 614 total yards. Leading, 49-42, the Giants had a 96.4 percent chance of winning this game with 6:41 to play.
After the Giants had overcome a 42-28 deficit to take a 49-42 lead, riding a five-touchdown game from Manning, the defense surrendered a 14-play, 80-yard drive that tied the score with just 41 seconds to play. Rather than run out the clock and play for overtime, Coughlin followed his aggressive plan and went for the win. It backfired as the Giants punted, botched the punt coverage, got a face mask penalty and watched Kai Forbath drill a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Week 10: Patriots 27, Giants 26
The Giants went from an 89.7 percent chance of winning after a Josh Brown field goal gave them a 26-24 lead with 1:50 to play to losing the game on a 54-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Coughlin's end-of-game strategy was again questioned by some. In field-goal range at the New England 23-yard line with 2:10 to play the Giants were again aggressive. Rather than running the ball, bleeding the clock down to about a minute and kicking the field goal the Giants went for the touchdown that would have forced the Patriots to match that in order to win.
They completed an 18-yard pass to Dwayne Harris at the 5-yard line, but then two incompletions and a sack before the field goal took barely any time off the clock. The Patriots, predictably, drove for the tying score -- which could have been prevented had Landon Collins not dropped an easy interception.
Week 13: Jets 23, Giants 20 (OT)
Leading 20-10 and with the ball, the Giants had a 99.2 percent chance of winning the game as they executed a 17-play, 11:21 second drive that began midway through the third quarter and ended on that fateful fourth-down Manning interception with 8:50 remaining in the game.
Another game that came down to an end-of-game goal-line decision. Another aggressive decision based on trying to get the biggest lead possible. Another move that backfired. The first miss of the season by placekicker Josh Brown. Another failure by the defense to hold a lead.
Coughlin has been heavily criticized for passing on a field goal that would have forced the Jets to score two touchdowns to win, instead trying to make it a three-score game. Shoot, in addition to worrying about his defense he probably also didn't trust the four-minute offense. Which failed the Giants again. Coughlin is wide open for criticism here. The play call, Manning and a defense that gave up three long drives in the final minutes of regulation and overtime also share in the blame.
When decisions backfire, coaches take a hit for them. When teams lose games they have within their grasp, especially when it becomes a patter involving debatable decisions, coaches take a hit. Thus, Coughlin takes -- and deserves -- the hit.
Do these decisions mean he doesn't know what he's doing? No. He knows precisely what he's doing. He's trying to coach around a defense that has been unable to make a stop when it matters and an offense that can't run the ball or execute in the four-minute offense when it has to. He will never admit it, but those things have probably led him to some decisions he would have preferred not to make.
"Quite frankly, you can all disagree, but we're trying to win games the best way we can. To be honest with you, nobody knows my team better than I know my team. So when you sit in judgement of what goes on, it's all been thought out, whether you like it or not, whether it's right or wrong," Coughlin said on Monday. "Had some of these things been things that we would have accomplished, it'd be a little bit different story. The majority of what we've done, and you well know it, is to try to put ourselves in a position where that last drive is not going to put us in the situation we've been in four or five times, and obviously it hasn't happened. We've tried for touchdowns instead of field goals and it hasn't happened."
Because those things haven't been accomplished, the season -- and Coughlin's job -- are in jeopardy.