The way the Cleveland Browns had been scoring, coach Joe Judge felt the New York Giants were going to need points to beat Baker Mayfield and company.
So they gambled despite using a backup quarterback and play caller and came up short in a 20-6 loss to the red-hot Browns on Sunday night.
It not only cost them a game and a chance to go back into first place in the weak NFC East, the Giants (5-9) need help to make the playoff for the first time since 2016 with two games left in the regular season.
“That’s the way you’ve got to go and play it sometimes,” Judge said after the Giants stayed a game behind first-place Washington (6-8). “All right. But we’ve got to go ahead and make the decision to be aggressive. Obviously, their team scored a lot of points throughout the year. It’s an explosive offense and they've done a very good job of moving it. They've been on a hot streak lately. We knew coming in what kind of team they were, and we had to call a game a certain way.”
The Giants got into the red zone on their first three possessions with Colt McCoy starting at quarterback instead of the injured Daniel Jones and former Browns coach Freddie Kitchens calling plays on offensive with coordinator Jason Garrett sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19.
They came away with three points. It was par for a team that has now scored 13 points in its last two games.
On the opening drive of the game, the Giants got to the Browns 8. On fourth down and 5, Judge sent out his field goal team and used a trick play. Before the snap, the line and kicker Graham Gano shifted, leaving center Nick Gates eligible. Holder and punter Riley Dixon took the snap in the weird formation but his pass to a well covered Gates in the middle of the end zone fell incomplete.
Judge thought it was a well designed fake. The team had practiced it throughout the year.
“I thought the timing was right and you ought to go ahead, just roll the dice sometimes to take a chance," Judge said. “You hit that thing and everyone is saying ‘You’re the guru.’ You don’t and everyone wants to second guess the decision.”
A field goal by Gano gave New York a 3-0 lead on the second series, but the Browns took the lead on a 2-yard pass from Mayfield to Austin Hooper.
The Giants drove 68 yards on their next series and had a fourth-and-2 at the Browns 6. Instead of closed the deficit to a point, Judge elected to go for a first down and Wayne Gallman came up a yard short.
Mayfieldthen drove the Browns 95 yards in 10 plays, capping the march with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry for a 13-3 lead. The extra point hit the upright.
The Giants never threatened again in losing their second straight.
McCoy, who was 19 of 31 for 221 yards, said there was no problem working with Kitchens.
“We just didn’t finish drives,” McCoy said. “In the first half I felt like we didn’t even punt. So we were moving the ball. We just shot ourselves in the foot. You know, we went for it on fourth down and in tight came up a half short. Those are huge plays in a game like this that we’ve got to make if we want to go for it on fourth down with a fake field goal. We've got to convert it if we want to win football games.”
The Giants will play Baltimore (9-5) next weekend and close the regular season at home against Dallas (5-9).
Defensive back Logan Ryan is not discouraged, especially after seeing the Giants post a recent four-game winning streak after a 1-7 start.
“We were counted out, left for dead and we won some games surprised some people who didn’t believe it, us and then everyone is believing in us,” Ryan said. “Now, people don’t believe again. So it doesn’t matter. And honestly, it doesn’t matter. W are who we are. And we got two games in front of us where we going to go out there and and win.”
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