Why Tom Coughlin's Choice At The Goal Line Was The Correct One
Brad Penner, USA Today Sports

Sunday’s game against the New York Jets was important to the New York Giants in many ways, as it was not only a battle for the city of New York, but both teams needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Giants had the game in their grasp, but yet again, they let it go and handed it to the Jets. 

The Giants were leading the game by ten at halftime, after scoring 20 points in the second quarter. The third quarter was silent for both sides, which meant the score was still 20-10 Giants heading into the final 15 minutes. The Giants were already amidst a five minute drive when the fourth quarter started, and this was where things got interesting. During the next eight plays of the drive, the Giants and Jets just kept moving back and forth. The Giants kept moving the ball, but had some penalties that brought them back, and the Jets would stop the Giants but would take penalties of their own that would give the Giants first downs.

When the Giants got down to the Jets’ 12-yard line, they were in a great position to put the game out of reach. Their first down play was a run to Shane Vereen that got one yard, and then Eli Manning got sacked on 2nd down for a loss of nine yards. So on third down, most people thought that the Giants would just try to get some of the yardage back and just take the field goal attempt. However, the Giants got 16 yards back, making it 4th down-and-2 at the Jets’ four yard line. It was decision time for Tom Coughlin.

People look at this choice, and say it’s easy, just take the three points. But others say that the Giants could end the game right then and there, by either getting the first down, or scoring seven points to ice the game. Coughlin decided to go for it, but it didn’t work out, as Eli threw a pick at the goal-line and the Jets returned it to the 14-yard line. To make a long story short, the Jets took that stop, grabbed all the momentum, and roared back to win the game in overtime. But let’s take a deeper look into that decision, and why Coughlin was right in going for it. 

On 3rd-and-18, the Giants could have called a number of plays. They could have went for it all by going at the endzone, or getting half of the yards back and taking the field goal, or just running it up the middle with the same idea. However, they got the worst possible result, and got to 4th-down-and-2. If the Giants were at any other part of the field, taking the field goal was the easy choice, no questions asked but being at the Jets’ four-yard line changes everything. 

Here are some of the pros of going for it on 4th down. The Giants could have picked up the two yards that they needed, and got the first down, which would have probably wasted another two minutes of the game clock. The Giants could have scored a touchdown, which would have given them a 17 point lead, and would have put the game out of reach for the Jets. Or at worst, the Giants could have gotten back to the line of scrimmage or gained a yard, and then Jets would have had to start at their own four. 

The clear con of the situation was what happened with Eli throwing the interception, but the defense still did their job, and only gave up a field goal on the Jets’ next drive. The Giants were still up seven points, and had 4:24 to kill off of the clock. The first play of the drive was a run up the middle for no gain, followed by a run that went for four yards. The Giants had a manageable 3rd-down-and-6, and could have given themselves an incredible chance of winning the game. Instead, it was an incomplete pass by Manning to Vereen, and the Giants were forced to punt. But, the Jets made it interesting by Running into the Kicker, making it 4th-down-and-1, allowing the Giants to re-punt. 

So, for everyone that wants to put the blame on Coughlin for going for it, how about we look at the offense, that hasn’t been able to close out a game all season long. Had the offense just gotten to 3rd-and-5 as opposed to 6, the Giants would have gotten the first down and been able to run more clock, and maybe end the game with the ball. Or, we can look back at when Chris Ivory fumbled the football at his own 11-yard line, and the Giants couldn’t punch it in, and settled for a field goal.

The point that this writer is trying to make is that the offense has been the main reason as to why the Giants’ record isn’t as good as it should be. Sure, the defense has given up late tying or go-ahead scores, but in some of those games, the defense should not have even been put in that situation. Let’s take a look at those examples.

Week one, the Giants were in the same spot, up ten points on the Dallas Cowboys with eight minutes to play. Yes, the defense gave up a touchdown to make it 23-20, but the offense got the ball back, went right down the field and had first-and-goal at Dallas’ 4-yard line. Not only did they completely botch their clock management, but they were in the same situation with 4th-down-and-1 at the 1-yard line. That time, Coughlin kicked the field goal to go up six, but then he got killed for not going for it like he did this past Sunday. Whether the Giants got a touchdown or not there, the Cowboys would have had to go 99-yards, and probably would have played their drive a little bit different. 

The next example was during the following week, when the Giants had yet another ten point 4th quarter lead against the Atlanta Falcons. The Giants started on their own 34-yard line, and were moving the ball well on Atlanta. They got down the Falcons’ 16-yard line, and seemed to be headed in for a touchdown. The first down play was a run for two yards, which was then followed by a pass for six yards, making it 3rd-down-and-2 at the 8-yard line. Manning dropped back for a pass, had to hold onto it longer than planned, and was sacked. Not only was he sacked, he fumbled the football, just like he turned it over Sunday, and propelled the Falcons to a late comeback. 

Let's fast forward to three weeks ago against the New England Patriots. Another ten point second half lead and the Giants have the ball at their own 44. They do absolutely nothing but get three yards, and are forced to punt, which is returned for 82 yards, ending up in a touchdown. But still, the Giants are in a good position, still up three points and have the ball again. New York went down the field and kicked a field goal, going up six points. Now the pressure sets in for the defense, but they stepped up, sacked Tom Brady, forced a fumble, and recovered it at New England’s 31-yard line. The first play of the drive had two offsetting penalties, so first down had to be replayed. So what happens when the Giants have a second chance? Eli got sacked on the first play for a 13 yard loss, and then there was an incomplete pass down the field. So then, it was 3rd-and-23, and the offense got two yards, two! This in turn forced Coughlin to punt instead of attempting a field goal, which could have put the Giants up nine points, and possibly ended the game.

The Patriots went right down the field on a huge play to Rob Gronkowski, and took a 24-23 lead. The Giants then got a huge break as Brady threw a pick at the Giants goal line, which gave New York a chance to go down the field and take the lead. The Giants were moving the ball really well, and go to a first and goal situation at the Patriots’ 5-yard line. On the first play, Eli found Odell Beckham Jr., who caught the ball, but got it knocked out before he made a “football move,” which shouldn’t matter in the end zone, but that argument is for another day. Then on 2nd down, Manning looked for Dwayne Harris, but the pass was incomplete. And finally, on 3rd down, Manning was sacked for a loss of six yards, and the Giants yet again, were forced to kick a field goal. The defense did their best to hold the Patriots back, but Stephen Gostkowski barely made a 54-yard field to give New England the win.

Then we land at last week, a game against the Washington Redskins, where the Giants offense was nowhere to be found in the first three quarters. No points, and no life shown by New York, but then all of a sudden, they decided to show up in the 4th quarter. The Giants tried to make a comeback, putting up two straight touchdowns, but the defense couldn’t get the final stop to give the offense a chance. So of course everyone will look at the defense for not getting a stop when they needed to, but the offense never gave them a break, and didn’t help out one bit. 

Now we go back to the big question of the day. Was Tom Coughlin right to go for it on 4th-and-2? Yes. The Giants season was on the line, and they could have ended it right then and there. We saw what happened in Week One, when the Giants “just took the points” against the Cowboys, they lost. Coughlin put his team in a spot to succeed, and to take full control of the NFC East, and their own destiny, and they failed. 

People always want to look at the Head Coach for a team’s failures, but not this time. This time it is on the players, who couldn’t get it done when it mattered, and couldn't “finish” a team off, which Coughlin always preaches. Lay off Tom Coughlin, and put the onus on people who actually play the game.