Pat Shurmur hasn't distinguished himself as the Giants' head coach yet, losing far more games so far than he's won so far. And he's drawn plenty of criticism -- most of it deserved -- in his 23 games at the helm for more than a few head-scratching decisions.
He made another one on Sunday, late in the Giants' 27-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
But don't get too crazy. His brain freeze was not why the Giants' lost.
Here was the situation: The Giants were starting to mount a comeback and had a little momentum when they started a drive with 4:23 remaining in the game, trailing the Cardinals 24-21. Their drive was getting nowhere fast, though, and they were facing a 3rd-and-18 from their own 30 with 3:11 to go.
That's not a lot of time, to be sure, but they were deep in their own end and their offense was scuffling. Yet for some reason Shurmur decided it was four-down territory -- a somewhat aggressive play. That was risky enough, but then he called a play that gave quarterback Daniel Jones an option to check into a draw to Saquon Barkley if the defense was in a "soft shell." That's how the Cardinals played it, so that's what Jones did.
The draw play picked up three yards.
Now, it is fair to suggest that if Shurmur was going to be aggressive, then he should have been aggressive and let Jones throw the ball. He argued that the Cardinals ran a similar play against the Giants defense and succeeded, which was true. He also knew he had one of the NFL's best play-makers on his side -- also true -- and "I wanted to keep Saquon involved."
That's fair, and giving the ball to Barkley is never wrong. Plus, if it had worked right, Barkley probably could've picked up 10-12 yards on that play had it been blocked correctly. And that would've put the Giants in a manageable fourth down situation, perhaps even something like 4th-and-5.
Even if you hate the draw play in that situation, it's hard to find fault with Shurmur's reasoning. It's not hard to find fault, though, with two other things about that mess: First, with Arizona's offense struggling and the Giants only needing a field goal to tie, he probably should have punted the ball knowing his offense would get the ball back, possibly even with more than two minutes remaining.
And second, after Barkley only picked up three yards, Shurmur absolutely should have changed his strategy and punted on 4th-and-15.
Instead, he stuck to his plan and the predictable happened. The Giants had to pass. The Cardinals, knowing that, blitzed. And Patrick Peterson hit Jones so hard that he knocked the ball away from the suddenly fumble-prone quarterback.
The Cardinals recovered and didn't even have to move the ball to add a field goal that increased their lead to 27-21.
So the draw wasn't the flaw. It was the fact that Shurmur made the choice to go for it on fourth down before the Giants had even run their third-down play. And it was sticking with his plan, even though fourth down became an impossible distance.
So, coach, why not punt?
"Because I had two timeouts (and) it played out exactly how I liked, or I would've hoped," Shurmur said. "We stopped them, it's a six-point game, we had two timeouts and the two-minute warning. So, it played out well."
Well, no, it didn't. It didn't play out well at all. And that was Shurmur's third problem -- not taking blame for his failure in the postgame press conference. In fact, he deflected, saying, "We just didn't execute the play as well as we would've liked."
That's another way of saying that the call was good, but the way his players ran it was bad.
In his defense, his players defended his decision because players always love it when a coach is aggressive. And they even seemed to support the draw call, because what could be better than putting the ball in Barkley's hands?
"It's a great call," Barkley said. "We knew we were going to be in two-down territory. It's 3rd-and-18. They played it well, but if they drop back like most teams do on 3rd-and-18, I think you have one of your best playmakers on the field with the ball in his hands."
Again, the reasoning is sound on the play call. It was the decision not to punt from the beginning and again at the end that made little sense. But a little perspective is still needed for everyone trying to pounce on the coach: At 3rd-and-18 from their own 30, the Giants aren't exactly facing a high-percentage situation. Shurmur's decision may have wasted a long-shot chance for them to mount a game-tying drive, but they were still a long, long way from that game-tying field goal on a day where so much about their offense was going wrong.
So Shurmur didn't lose them this game. The defense lost the game by putting the Giants in a 17-0 hole before half the crowd could get into the seats. Jones lost the game with three turnovers, including two lost fumbles. The offensive line lost the game by giving up eight sacks, disrupting the offense. Even Barkley and tight end Evan Engram contributed to the loss with key drops.
Shurmur? There's a lot not to like about his coaching sometimes, and he makes it seem worse when he tries to arrogantly defend against the second-guessers. The second guessers in this case are at least partially right about his decisions. But they are wrong to pin this loss completely on him.