The game came down to one play for the Giants' offense. With 1:43 remaining, the Giants had everything going in their favor: the score (23-20), the ball (third and goal on the Dallas 1) and the ability to run down the clock in the process of putting up more points because the Cowboys had just used their final timeout.
Instead, poor playcalling and clock management led to just three points and enough time for the Cowboys to drive 72 yards downfield in 1:27 over just six plays to beat the Giants, 27-26.
“We played hard and put ourselves in position to win on defense," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "The drives towards the end of the game, were quite frankly knives through butter. It was too easy, but that’s not the reason we lost. They shouldn’t have had the time to even do that, had we done it properly.”
With the Giants up three with 1:43 left, the Giants were on the doorstep of making it a two-score game. A dash for the end zone by either Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams would have clinched the game. A failed run would have run the clock down 30 more seconds. Instead...
E.Manning pass incomplete short right. Heavy pressure by Lee. Manning threw the ball out of the back of the end zone.
The play and the subsequent field goal took just 10 seconds off the clock, giving Dallas 1:34 to work with instead of a possible 1:04 to try to win the game. Coughlin explained the decision to the media after the game:
"The decision to throw the ball there on third down was not a good decision. It should have been a run, whether we scored or not. The clock would have at least given us the opportunity to take a few more seconds off. We wouldn’t have had the points, but we could’ve run the ball and clock would’ve run and we could’ve taken a timeout and kicked a field goal. And it would have taken at least another 40 seconds or so off the clock. So that was a bad decision on my part. There’s nobody else to blame but me.”
Not so fast. There's plenty of blame to go around for this one. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo called a play that made no sense for any goal line circumstance. He had Eli Manning rolling right while all the receivers cut left. With only TE Daniel Fells, who had his back turned to Manning and was fully engaged with a Cowboys' defender, the possible receiver in the area, Manning decided to throw the ball out of the end zone.
Bad move. He knows he should have taken the sack there, but just didn't...
"I should have. 100 percent on me right there. Bad clock management for that whole deal. I had an option – just take the sack and run those 40 seconds off the clock – give them less time. That’s 100% on me and that can’t happen," Manning said after the game. "Trying to get it to two scores and I had bad clock management those final three plays. I thought they had used their last timeout on that play to Odell [Beckham Jr.] when we got the first down. I thought that they only had one timeout left. I guess since there was a penalty, even though we declined it, for some reason that stops the clock. I didn’t think that was the case, so I bad clock management there and I thought we could run out the clock or get it way down and then on third down, can’t afford to throw it away. I’ve got to sit in there and take the sack and then run off the 40 seconds.
The Giants' defense, for some reason, made it real easy for Tony Romo, who was working without his top target, Dez Bryant, to score the winning points. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had his unit playing the softest version of a prevent defense. All it did was prevent the Giants from winning.
On the first two plays of the drive, he threw two dump off passes to running back Lance Dunbar going for 24 and 16 yards. Then Romo hit tight end Jason Witten down the middle for a gain of 13.
Suddenly, the Cowboys were on the Giants' 19 with 23 seconds on the clock. Two plays later, Romo scooped an errant snap and hit Witten down the middle of the end zone in a cluster of confused Giants defenders to tie the game before Dallas' extra point - now from the 33-yard line - gave the Cowboys the lead.
Romo didn't even spike the ball once to stop the clock. Spagnuolo, you got some work to do. You too, McAdoo.