Young Coach's Unpredictability Is Refreshing And Should Serve Him Well As Big Blue Powers Toward The Playoffs

By Ernie Palladino
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At long last, Ben McAdoo finally veered away from the two-yard run and the wait-for-Odell Beckham, Jr.-to-do-something ways of the previous eight games.

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Good things happened to the Giants when he did, more good things than he knows right now.

By going for it on fourth-and-goal from the Cincinnati 3 early in the fourth quarter, down 20-14, McAdoo gave his team the gift of aggressiveness. Despite what a 6-3 record might indicate, a gun-slinger’s mentality was the last way anyone would have described McAdoo’s game outlook. The offense had been mired in relying on the predictable running game and forcing the ball to Beckham before McAdoo popped his head out of his protective cone of conservatism and threw Cincinnati a big curveball.

When he risked all sorts of public scorn by going for the go-ahead touchdown instead of a chip-shot field goal that would have put the Giants within three points of a tie with 14 minutes left to win it in regulation, McAdoo sent a message to his team and his NFC East opponents.

He’s going after wins. Hard.

And it’s not just going to be Beckham who gets them. It’s going to be everybody.

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In that particular moment, it was Sterling Shepard who came through, catching the decisive touchdown on a crossing pattern as Beckham cleared an opening over the middle for Shepard with a decoy route toward the sideline.

It worked to perfection. But even if it hadn’t, McAdoo would have finally proved his willingness to take the heat for a gamble gone wrong. It’s important for any leader, especially a rookie coach, to roll the dice once in a while.

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It took eight games and three quarters of another for McAdoo to pull the dice out of his pocket. Voices wondered where the free-wheeling play-caller of 2015 had gone. The offensive coordinator who turned the Giants’ offense into the league’s sixth-ranked scoring unit had ceded his aggression to the pressures of succeeding Tom Coughlin.

His key decision changed that for the better. It gave the rest of his unit confidence, so much so that a running game that had produced a typical 77 yards the first three quarters churned out 45 yards in the fourth, including the 25-yard burst from Rashad Jennings that allowed Manning to finish the game on his knee.

The end of the game was all Jennings, in fact. The four-minute drill had become something of a problem for the Giants, as they repeatedly handed the ball over to the opposition for nail-biting finishes.

This time, though, the NFL’s worst ground game rose up. Jennings carried five straight times in the final three minutes, picking up two huge first downs before Manning took two knees.

McAdoo showed at the end the same faith in Jennings as he earlier did in Shepard, Manning, and the quarterback’s pass protection, to get the job done.

To the rest of the league, he showed the beginnings of a new identity. Though it’s unlikely McAdoo will ever adopt the confusion-causing practice of splitting out offensive tackles and willy-nilly shifts Marvin Lewis deployed Monday, his willingness to go against the book in crunch time should give opposing coaches something else to think about.

McAdoo did himself a big favor, not only because the Giants extended their winning streak to four games, the longest since 2013, but because of the message he sent to his players and the remaining opponents.

The Giants will not go conservatively into this playoff competition.

So buckle up, gang.

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