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NFL

The Giants Might Actually Be Watchable

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 11: Head coach Brian Daboll of the New York Giants looks on ahead of the the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Don’t mistake me. I’m not saying the New York Giants aren’t bad, because they are. The roster is basically still bereft of talent, and also extremely, hilariously expensive. This is because the former regime apparently had a fetish not just for acquiring bad players, but for paying them as much as they could be paid under league rules. The new braintrust hasn’t had the time or cap space to properly flush the pipes, and so the football product on tap this year will remain thoroughly non-potable and contaminated with various spores and toxins. Six wins would be a miracle. Dave Gettleman should stand trial in The Hague for his crimes. I have forgotten where I was going when I started this blog. Oh right! I’m not saying the New York Giants aren’t bad. But they might be a little more interesting about it.

The Dabollpill is available at pharmacies throughout the New York Metropolitan Region, though I’m not hurrying out to get it quite yet; one game is one game, even if it was a rousing 21-20 upset of the Titans in Nashville. But new head coach Brian Daboll and new offensive coordinator Mike Kafka showed a promising commitment to maximizing the things that work and minimizing the things that don’t on a team with very few of the former, many of the latter, and a longstanding resistance to acknowledging which is which. In Sunday’s game, as presumably will be the case in many others, that meant a lot of Saquon Barkley and a little bit of Daniel Jones. But more than that, the play-calling was creative, and bold—a million miles away from Joe Judge calling two QB sneaks at the team’s own 4 to better set up a punt.

After New York tied the game on the back of two 60-plus-yard breakout plays, Tennessee retook the lead, and the Giants had one more chance. A competent little drive—short passes, Barkley runs, even a designed handoff to WR Kadarius Toney—was on the verge of stalling on the edge of the red zone. There, on a fourth down where a stop would’ve meant the game, the Giants went for broke. They called for Jones, who does have mobility but rarely has plays called to utilize it, a bootleg nuder than Lady Godiva. It was the sort of play where if it works, it works, but if it’s blown, it has zero chance and will be humiliating to boot. It worked:

[A]s the players said, “Fuck yeah” they were going to win after that.

“We’re going to be aggressive,” Daboll said. “That’s what we want to do. That’s the mindset I want the players to have.”

Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. The Giants still had to score, which they did, on another unexpected play call. That one was a one-yard pass to a wide-open Chris Myarick, listed as the first-string fullback and third-string tight end; it was just his fourth career reception over three NFL seasons. “That’s why it’s such a good call,” Myarick said. “They’re anticipating [a handoff to Barkley] and it makes it easy for me to shed the defensive end because he’s expecting the run, too.”

Daboll’s signature moment then came in the decision to go for two, and try to end the game in regulation. (Joe Judge probably would have asked the official if he was allowed to punt.) And why not? The Giants have absolutely nothing to lose this season but pride, and that would be healthy for an organization habitually hung up on its own stuffy brand of non-excitement. They stand to gain some smallish number of wins to be determined, but perhaps also some player development and evaluation and an institutional attitude adjustment. All those ends seem well-served by a coach signaling his confidence in an offense that’s lacked it. “Go for the win,” Daboll described it later. “We’re going to be aggressive. That is what we want to do. That is the mindset I want the players to have. If it didn’t work, I can live with it.”

After running that decision by defensive players on the bench—not giving them the chance to overrule him, but just letting them know he was thinking about them, and that his decision was no reflection on his confidence in them to get a stop—Daboll kept the offense on the field and Kafka dialed up a little shovel pass to Barkley, who scooted around one defender and bowled through another to paydirt.

It almost didn’t matter; Tennessee would still have won if Randy Bullock hadn’t missed a 47-yarder as time expired. But he did miss, and that’s the kind of thing that sometimes happens when you seize the initiative and force your opponent to keep pace. The Giants haven’t had anything resembling initiative for years now—hell, this brief stay at 1-0 marks the first time they’ve had a winning record since 2016. It may not last. It almost certainly won’t. But the Brian Daboll Giants have already shown more flashes of creativity and chutzpah than they ever did under the last guys. And at the very least, the Daboll promise is that if they’re going to lose, he won’t make you sit around through overtime for it.