The most poignant observation of an afternoon slog at MetLife Stadium came from the visiting coach, Riverboat Ron Rivera, who turned a good chunk of America’s football-watching public apoplectic when he decided to go for a two-point conversion late in this rock fight, rather than kick an extra point and go for overtime.
“The only way to learn to win,” the coach of the Washington Football Team would say, by manner of explanation, “is to play to win.”
That probably provides little consolation for Washington fans who saw its defense fairly own the second half of what became a 20-19 Giants victory. But it is a reminder that even in a clash of anti-titans, 1-4 against 0-5, there is a lesson to be learned. Neither of these teams is good enough to beat most of the other teams in the league.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t try to make winning plays. Sometimes the seeds for future success are sown on forgettable afternoons like this one. The Giants have spent most of this season playing just well enough to lose in agonizing fashion — or, put another way, just poorly enough that most of those fourth quarters that went awry did so for a reason.
But winning is always preferable to losing.
(NOTE TO TANK FANS: This is the law. Sorry. You can provide all the evidence you want that tanking can work out in the long run. Don’t want to hear it. Tanking stinks.)
“Every game has a storm,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “You have to fight through the storm.”
Said Leonard Williams: “I was tired of seeing sad faces in the locker room.”
There are still so many issues facing this team. You can torture yourself as a fan. You can say, play here and a play there, the Bears game could’ve gone differently, the Rams game could’ve gone differently. You can surely believe the Cowboys game last week in Arlington, Texas, could’ve gone differently.
You can look at the deplorable roster of NFL East teams and repeat the age-old adage of sporting optimism: Why not us?
And that’s fine. That’s as it should be. That also doesn’t take away from the fact that the Giants were the beneficiaries of some great good fortune Sunday afternoon, and not just because Riverboat Ron decided to hit on 18. The Giants won despite accounting for only 112 passing yards; the cadets running the triple option at West Point are generally the only ones who win games that way in 2020.
They won despite being unable to seize the game in the second half against a Washington team that seemed so ready to be seized. There was the weekly awful turnover from Daniel Jones, a pick in the Washington end zone that, by rights, should have been overturned on review but was still an inexplicably poor decision by a quarterback whose decision making continues to be a grave concern.
And they won despite allowing a late touchdown that, by rights, should have forced an overtime they wanted no part of, because they’d been blown off the line of scrimmage relentlessly for the better part of an hour.
Still — and this really does matter — they won.
They won, in the end, because given one chance to fulfill the credo of Riverboat Ron Rivera, they did it. Rivera’s quarterback, Kyle Allen, made a terrible mistake (that no doubt made Giants fans wince, because they could see their own quarterback easily make such a blunder) and fumbled a ball at midfield that was scooped up by Tae Crowder and run back 43 yards for a touchdown with 3:29 to go.
Crowder — the last pick in the last NFL draft, reigning holder of the title of “Mr. Irrelevant” — saw the ball, grabbed the ball, ran with the ball. Seems simple. But playing to win doesn’t always need to be as complicated as advanced astrophysics.
“Right place, right time,” Crowder would say later. “Trying to make a play for my team.”
That is the seed. That is the beginning. You make enough of these plays you can win a few games. String enough of those wins, and maybe you build something again to replace the football eyesore we’ve grown all too familiar with. Play to win, even at 0-5. Start something. Build something. Maybe see if it can travel to Philadelphia four days from now.
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