Reputations in the NFL are like goldfish in a family home. You don’t just have to nurture them, you have to protect them from all kinds of bizarre, unexpected and unfathomable occurrences. Sometimes a goldfish has to survive getting an entire can of Coke or a whole bag of potato chips dunked in its tank, and sometimes a reputation has to survive losing a game you had a 99.9 percent chance of winning with 30 seconds left.
Coming into this season, Brian Daboll wasn’t the darling of New York — that would be Aaron Rodgers, who held that title for all of four plays — but coming off a 9-7-1 season where he won NFL Coach of the Year, expectations for Daboll were high enough.
The goodwill lasted about seven minutes into the season, until Dallas blocked a field goal and ran it back for a touchdown en route to a 40-0 Sunday night skull-dragging of the Giants. After injuries to both newly extended quarterback Daniel Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor, the Giants are 2-6, already five games off the division lead in just eight weeks.
The ugliness keeps coming. Thanks to quarterbacks that spent more time in the medical tent than under center, and a decimated offensive line, the Giants rank 32nd in points scored. The team couldn’t even manage a double-digit lead until their seventh game of the season — the last team in the NFL to do so. Matters bottomed out on Sunday, when the Giants had a victory in their hands … and then just kicked it away.
With just 28 seconds left and facing fourth-and-1 deep in Jets territory, Daboll opted to go for a field goal … which kicker Graham Gano missed, because karma gods curse conservative play-calling.
“Kick a field goal there and they have 24 seconds with no timeouts and they need a touchdown,” Daboll said after the game. “Making the field goal, then they’d have 24 seconds with no timeouts and they’d have to drive the length and our defense was playing really well the whole game. That’s why I made the decision.”
The Jets needed just two plays (and a highly favorable self-spotting) to traverse the field without timeouts and kick an OT-forcing field goal. Of course.
The Jets would go on to win, in large part because Daboll had no trust in Tommy DeVito (the quarterback making his NFL debut, not the “Goodfellas” character) to throw downfield. DeVito completed two passes for minus-1 yards, and the Giants as a whole had minus-9 passing yards on an afternoon that’s going to leave a scar.
“We had some chances there,” Daboll said after the game. “Probably about a handful of plays that if we make one of them, probably get a different result.”
He’s not wrong. The Giants are two yards from being 4-4 — the one they couldn’t get Sunday on fourth down, and the one that separated them from the end zone at the end of their Week 6 game against the Bills, where they lost 14-9.
Giants fans have every right to be enraged, but there’s probably more than a little scar tissue here; Daboll was supposed to put an end to the tentative, misfiring Joe Judge era. Last year, he did. This year, he’s flailing. Every team faces coin-flip games, but for the Giants, the coin flips aren’t coming up heads or tails — the coin is just rolling into an open sewer.
Daboll’s job shouldn’t be in jeopardy; he bought himself an awful lot of goodwill from last year’s playoff team, and injuries to key positions have left him fighting with both hands tied behind his back. But he arrived to a New York franchise fed up with losing and coming off a 4-13 season that ended with six straight losses. The fact that Daboll still has work to do in November to get past that woeful mark is grim indeed.
There’s still time for Daboll to turn this around, time to salvage some pride in 2023 and set up for next year. The mighty Eagles lurk late in the season, in Weeks 16 and 18, but between now and then the Giants have theoretically winnable games against Las Vegas, Washington, New England and Green Bay.
Jones is expected to return this week, which could give the Giants some desperately needed stability. Star running back Saquon Barkley looks as reliable as ever, even if he’s literally carrying the entire team on his back right now.
If the Giants continue to spiral, though, and if Daboll continues to end up on the wrong side of debatable coaching decisions, well … it’s best not to think too much about the fate that awaits most family goldfish.