Brian Daboll knew his team would go all-in on Wednesday.
With 2:23 remaining in the first half on “Sunday Night Football,” the New York Giants faced a 4th-and-9 from the Washington Commanders’ 35-yard line in the organization’s most important game in six seasons.
The Giants had already had possession of the ball for eight minutes. New York led 7-3 thanks to rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. Kicker Graham Gano has been near-automatic from that spot on the field this season – he had two 50-yard field goals on Sunday – but Daboll chose to keep his offence on the field.
Daniel Jones took the shotgun snap, dropped back, and looked to the left. Richie James, the receiver, dashed to the sticks and turned. Jones lobbed the ball between two defenders, which James hauled in for a first down.
Three plays later, Saquon Barkley took a direct snap from three yards out for a touchdown to put the Giants up 14-3 at halftime, a crucial score in the Giants’ eventual 20-12 victory that made their playoff chase much more manageable.
The 18-play sequence that took eight minutes and 35 seconds off the clock for a drive that started at their own three-yard line may have saved the Giants season and prevented them from squandering their 6-1 start.
It all began with Daboll’s weekly meetings with offensive assistant/game manager Cade Knox and director of football data and innovation Ty Siam.
Knox and Siam are “two guys that I lean on a lot during the week in terms of clock management, fourth-down decisions, and overtime decisions,” Daboll said.
“Everyone contributed to the victory. Those two guys were unquestionably important.”
What is the takeaway?
“Try listening to the Ivy Leaguers,” Daboll advised. (Knox graduated from Harvard in 2020, while Siam earned both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from Cornell.)
The drive began with Barkley’s two-yard run to gain some breathing room, followed by a play-action pass to Jones, who was rolling left. The Giants were in business after he floated the ball to tight end Noah Vannett for a 15-yard gain.
“Play after play,” Jones said, “it was consistent execution.”
Jones connected with James for six yards on a 2nd-and-15 and then again on the next play to convert a 3rd-and-9, one of the Giants’ two third-down conversions (in ten attempts) on Sunday.
Then it was receiver Isaiah Hodgins’ turn, as he hauled in two consecutive passes for seven-yard gains to put the Giants in Washington territory.
“That was definitely a crazy drive,” Hodgins told USA TODAY Sports. “It was one of the longest I’d ever been a part of. One of the most exhausting as well.
“All we did was keep playing. We didn’t even blink. We continued to execute. That, I believe, demonstrates the character of this team. With our backs to the wall, we just took it play by play, even when there was a minor setback, and kept going. This team simply stayed together and fought through the difficulties.”
A false start by rookie right tackle Evan Neal put the Giants on 2nd-and-15, and a six-yard pass from Jones to backup running back Matt Brieda set up a 3rd-and-9 attempt that fell incomplete.
That’s when Daboll made the decision to go for it, which surprised none of his players.
“He always says he believes in us, shoot, go for it, and be aggressive,” said receiver Darius Slayton. “So it didn’t surprise me that he’d go for it. We just needed to get started.”
Jones zipped in one of several tight-window throws James made on the drive.
Jones hit Hodgins again after the two-minute warning for a 19-yard gain that put the Giants on the 5-yard line. Jones attempted one sneak on first down and gained two yards.
“When you get into the other red zone, you’re like, ‘Came this far. You have to see it through.’ “It was a long drive,” Slayton explained.
Mike Kafka, offensive coordinator, reached into his play-calling bag for the drive’s exclamation point. Jones and Barkley lined up in a shotgun formation, side by side. Both shifted to their left before the snap, and Barkley took the direct snap in for the score.
Daboll stated that each game necessitates a different set of circumstances, and that the discussions and time spent on game management preparation – which takes place on Wednesdays and Thursdays – allows him to feel confident in whatever decision he makes.
Daboll has a direct line to Knox and Siam during games to debate in real time.
“We put a lot of effort into it. “There are a lot of numbers and percentages,” Daboll explained. “And then there’s also real conversation about players and matchups and you kind of combine everything. I don’t believe you can take something and say, “This is what you do.” You’ve got to have a feel for the game, a feel for your opponent, a feel for your matchup, and a feel for the weather.”
Two Ivy Leaguers, as Daboll dubbed them, could mean the difference between a happy season and a playoff berth for a team with a first-year head coach and a revamped roster.