Ben McAdoo began his press conference the same way he addressed his players in the post-game locker room. “Put this game on me,” McAdoo said, minutes after the Giants’ ugly 24–10 home loss to the Lions dropped his team to 0–2.
It was a putrid offensive performance, the second such one of the season, and McAdoo quite literally holds the cards to the offense on gameday as the play-caller.
But a few questions later, McAdoo did something surprising: He called out the 14-year veteran, two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback. Perhaps publicly criticizing your most important player sends the strongest message to your team. Perhaps he thought Eli Manning needed that kick in the pants. Either way, the reality is that even in the heat of the moment after a loss, most head coaches, and certainly McAdoo included, choose their words carefully. And he chose to call out Manning for two of his mistakes—some of the many, many mistakes made by the Giants on Monday night—that altered the course of the game.
The delay of game on fourth down on the goal line, that backed the Giants up five yards and forced them to kick a field goal instead of going for the touchdown?
“Sloppy quarterback play,” McAdoo said. The reason why the coach didn’t call a time out? “Because we have a veteran quarterback who has played a lot of football; I expect us to get the ball snapped.”
The fourth-and-three in the middle of the fourth quarter, when the flat route to Shane Vereen ended short of the sticks?
“[Eli] had a couple different options there, and he chose to go with Shane Vereen,” McAdoo said. “I saw the nickel fall off on the flat route on Shane to make a nice play.”
Those are not ambiguous words. For the record, Manning, too, took the responsibility for these mistakes. But on a night that was a comedy of errors, on which the home crowd booed the starting offense after just three offensive plays, when there was more than enough blame to go around—the head coach made sure his quarterback shouldered a good share of that.
To take inventory of some of the errors: There was Brandon Marshall’s brutal drop early in the fourth quarter on what would have been about a 25-yard gain. Instead, the Giants punted and the Lions returned the punt for a TD, blowing open their lead to 24–10. “That was the moment,” Marshall said. “I let my team down.”
And with 4:34 to play, there was the fourth-down drop by Odell Beckham, Jr., whose playing time was on a pitch count because of his ankle injury, that effectively ended the game. When asked what happened, Beckham said bluntly, “I dropped it.”
Rookie tight end Evan Engram was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for the unnecessary decision to grab his crotch after scoring his first NFL touchdown. The run game has gained less than 100 yards in the first two games of the season combined. And not a single one of the 77,004 people at MetLife Stadium missed the rough night had by left tackle Ereck Flowers, who was overwhelmed by Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah and surrendered at least three sacks. Certainly not GM Jerry Reese, who chose to stand pat this offseason with the same offensive line that was a weakness last year.
You could also question McAdoo’s shoddy clock management at the end of the first half, when he didn’t call a timeout before the Lions’ field goal, which would have at least given the Giants a little more time to try to close the 17–7 gap before halftime. Or, maybe he could have schemed more help for Flowers, who was struggling against Ansah, to give the offense a fighting chance, or perhaps called a fourth-down play for Beckham that wasn’t short of the first-down sticks?
As Justin Pugh put it, ever so plainly: “Right now, not much is going right.”
“We have to come together and start playing for each other and start playing as a team, because right now, obviously we are just not playing up to our ability,” said Pugh, who started the game at left guard and moved to right tackle when Bobby Hart injured his ankle two plays into the game. “I don’t know if we were thinking last year we went 11–5, we went to the playoffs. We can’t sleep on that. This is a new year; this is a new team. I said when we came into the season, this is the most talented team we had on paper, but you can’t go out there and win on paper.”
Pugh used the word “shocked.” “Very surprised” were the words used by Landon Collins, a leader of a defense that didn’t play perfectly but held up pretty well considering the pressure they were under with the offense’s miscues. Collins went so far as to call a Week 3 game, this Sunday at Philadelphia, a “must-win.”
“The team in general needs to look in the mirror,” Collins said. “As a defense, we shouldn’t be giving up 17 points when we know how we are struggling on the other side of the ball.”
There is no clear way out of this mess for the Giants, whose best player (Beckham) is not fully healthy, and whose most maligned player (Flowers) has no real alternative on the roster. But on Monday night, McAdoo started by putting the mirror directly in front of Eli Manning.
The delay of game was, indeed, sloppy. So was Manning’s first-half interception on a pass that was behind Engram, which gave the ball right back to the Lions the very next play after Jason Pierre-Paul had strip-sacked Matthew Stafford. Engram said he could have run a better route, but McAdoo second-guessed Manning’s read. “I thought he should’ve went to No. 2 or checked the ball down,” McAdoo said. On one of Manning’s five sacks he held the ball too long and took a coverage sack, and his immobility, while nothing new, only served to exacerbate the issue of poor protection.
McAdoo may have been sending a message to his quarterback that it’s his job to lift the players around him, and to everyone else on the roster that no one is immune to criticism. At the same time, it sounded to the outside world like the head man in charge passing the blame. Whatever McAdoo meant by it, this is exactly what his words are: A watershed moment for the 2017 Giants. Who knew it would come before the end of September?
We have a newsletter, and you can subscribe, and it’s free. Get our new, improved newsletter, “The Morning Huddle,” delivered to your inbox first thing each weekday, by going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box. Start your day with the best of the NFL, from The MMQB.
Question or comment? Story idea? Email us at email@example.com.
Do you have an unusual story to tell? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org