EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Leading 19-16, the New York Giants could have very easily handed the ball to running back Saquon Barkley on third-and-6 from their own 40-yard line with 1:50 remaining. Force the Carolina Panthers to use their final timeout, punt the ball and rely on a defense that has played so well the first two weeks.
Not these Giants. Not with Brian Daboll as the head coach.
Daboll instead called for quarterback Daniel Jones to roll out on a bootleg. He could either throw to Barkley in the right flat or tuck it and run himself. He chose the latter, and Jones gained 11 yards on the play to pick up a first down. Game, set and match for the Giants for the second consecutive week to begin Daboll's head coaching career, as New York beat Carolina 19-16 in its home opener on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
“I think it was a great call in a situation like that,” Jones said.
Two weeks, two statements from the Giants about what kind of team they are -- an unapologetic yet imperfect group that is finally producing better results. It may not have been pretty, but they are the only 2-0 team in the NFC East entering Monday.
“I think it’s important to show players that you have faith in them,” said Daboll, who also called for a 2-point conversion to go for the win late last week in Tennessee. “They work their asses off during the week. They’ve worked their asses off during camp. They’re the ones out there playing on Sunday, and you have to put it in their hands when it counts the most. And that’s what [offensive coordinator Mike] Kafka did with Daniel, and Daniel made the right decision.”
This isn’t just an offensive philosophy that Daboll brought with him from the Buffalo Bills. It’s an organizational attitude he’s working to install. It’s the same approach the Giants are bringing on defense and special teams.
It has the defense -- which has allowed 36 points in two games -- thriving in coordinator Wink Martindale’s new scheme, even without its top two pass-rushers. Outside linebackers Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) and Azeez Ojulari (calf) both missed their second consecutive game, and defensive lineman Leonard Williams (knee) left Sunday in the third quarter.
It didn’t matter. The aggressive Giants defense refuses to play scared. It blitzed in the biggest spot of the game while dropping outside linebackers Oshane Ximines and Jihad Ward in coverage. Safety Julian Love, who had half a sack in his first three professional seasons, sacked Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield on third down with just under three minutes remaining. Carolina never got the ball back.
“Wink’s done this a long time. Wink’s not afraid of failure,” Daboll said. “That is really what we want from the entire organization is not to be afraid of failure, not to be afraid of the consequence. If you prepare the right way, you can live with the results. And I’ll say that over and over again.”
The results so far have been encouraging. The 2-0 Giants are winning the types of games fans have become so accustomed to seeing them lose in recent years. It took until Week 10 of last season for them to win their second game. This year they did it by mid-September.
Martindale’s defense has now made stops late in the game in consecutive weeks to preserve victories. The Giants hadn’t won consecutive games decided by three points or fewer since Weeks 1 and 2 in the 2016 season.
“Yeah, the guys that we have on our team aren’t afraid of failure. We’ve been at the bottom. So we experienced all that,” safety Xavier McKinney said. “We’re not worried about messing up. Sometimes we hear the boos. We’re not too much worried about it. We’re going to have a breakthrough at some point.”
This just might be that breakthrough.
“I don’t know, I guess,” McKinney said. “We’re 2-0. We’ve got to keep working. I’ve learned in this league things can go south pretty fast.”
But they’re trending in the right direction now, and it is clear the Giants are embracing this new approach. It undoubtedly is different from last year, when former coach Joe Judge called a QB sneak on third-and-9 from inside his own 5-yard line in Week 18.
Daboll conversely went for the win late in his second career game.
“That pumps up the team, obviously, when the coach believes in you,” offensive tackle Andrew Thomas said. “It’s good for morale.”
In this case, it appears to be good for the Giants' present and future. Their coach believes in them, and they seem to believe in their coach's new ways.