Not once. Twice.
That’s how many times in the first half Sunday that the Giants came away scoreless inside the 10-yard line, failures that erased at least six points in a critical 20-6 loss to the Browns at MetLife Stadium. Joe Judge justified his coaching decisions by taking pressure off his undermanned defense, but the specific play calls left much to be desired.
“Field goals weren’t going to win this game,” Judge said.
Even with their best player James Bradberry sidelined as a high-risk close contact for COVID-19, defense still is the clear-cut strength of the Giants. Especially with a backup offensive coordinator (Freddie Kitchens) calling plays for a backup quarterback (Colt McCoy).
The formula for winning with McCoy was on display two weeks ago, when the defense stifled Russell Wilson and the offense did just enough to beat the Seahawks, 17-12. All of which made the Giants’ willingness to risk coming away from three red-zone trips with just three total points all the more confusing.
“You don’t go in with some kind of a crystal ball and say they are only going to score 20 points,” Judge said.
On fourth-and-goal at the end of the opening possession, a fake field goal left holder/punter Riley Dixon as the shotgun quarterback and he overthrew a pass to triple-covered center Nick Gates. Kicker Graham Gano and right tackle Cam Fleming also were running routes. No typos there — and the sneak attack fooled nobody.
“I thought it was a well-designed fake — we’ve executed and practiced that throughout the year,” Judge said. “You hit that thing and everyone yells, anoints you a guru and you don’t hit that thing and everybody wants to second-guess the decision.”
With the Browns leading 7-3 in the second quarter, the Giants again got away from their identity.
Judge has coached all season — especially when the Giants are underdogs — to keep games close and try to steal a fourth-quarter win. This looked more like a game the aggressive Kitchens coached in his year in charge of the Browns in 2019, which made it worth wondering his impact whispering in Judge’s ear.
When the Giants faced fourth-and-2 at the Browns 6-yard line, Wayne Gallman replaced backup running back Alfred Morris — who had five carries for 24 yards on the drive — and was tackled short of the marker.
“We moved the ball up and down the field — we just have to figure out how to score touchdowns,” McCoy said. “If you want to point the finger at anybody, point it at me.”
The Giants entered the game ranked No. 29 in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on only 50 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line with Jason Garrett calling the plays.
It became clear the Giants were coaching and playing to score in the 20s for the first time in four games — and take some pressure off the overtaxed defense. They succeeded in holding the Browns to three first-half possessions, but those produced two touchdowns (missed PAT).
The Browns backed up tackling Gallman with a 95-yard touchdown drive to build an insurmountable 13-3 halftime lead.