Rather than point fingers or offer up excuses, interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo took responsibility for the big plays that cost the New York Giants on Sunday in a 30-10 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
It was a welcome change for the organization in light of recent changes.
One of the criticisms that stuck with recently fired head coach Ben McAdoo was about his demeanor and in particular his lack of awareness when it came to assigning blame. Loss after loss – the Giants were 2-10 under McAdoo this year – McAdoo seemed to come across as tone deaf. He would praise how the team practiced during the week and even the gameplan, essentially pointing the finger at his team for failing to come up with plays during games.
By process of elimination if the practices were good and the coaches did what they were supposed to do, then McAdoo’s comments led to the conclusion that the players didn’t step up. And as the losses continued to mount, it became clearer and clearer that the explanation from the former head coach just wasn’t holding water anymore.
But in Sunday’s loss, a game that was 10-10 at the middle point of the fourth quarter, the Giants found another way to lose. The game was there for the taking, despite numerous injuries in a game that was now meaningless for Big Blue.
Yet there weren’t excuses from Spagnuolo but rather a shouldering of the blame as the Cowboys rattled off three unanswered touchdowns late in the game.
The go-ahead touchdown came when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott read a blitz and made the right call. It was a theme late in the game as the Cowboys exploited several Giants blitzes to make big plays. Spagnuolo, who was the Giants defensive coordinator before being named interim head coach, continued to call the defensive plays on Sunday.
“I probably need to better – I got overanxious on one of them. I’ll be honest. That’s how I feel. Now, what you got to know about me is when the play doesn’t go right, I always think that there could have been a better call. That’s just how I am,” Spagnuolo said.
“Now, having said that, we know that whatever the call is, a guy is going to try to make a play, but there was one I would like to have back. The other ones we had, you know, there were a couple things we didn’t do quite right that resulted in a bad finish for us, but we’re going to have to dissect and go through it with the players. We can be better. We can – look, those plays shouldn’t happen. Certainly not that long. We got to get them on the ground. I’m sure the guys feel bad about not tackling them in certain situations.”
It was a well-balanced response from Spagnuolo, one that shows he isn’t above reproach and understands what resonates in a locker room.
Beyond that, to his credit, the interim head coach had his team ready to play against an opponent that was highly motivated and in the thick of the playoff picture in the NFC. That they played with heart and emotion just days after their head coach was fired is a testament not just to Spagnuolo’s role in keeping the locker room together but also in the maturity of the team.
Certainly, Spagnuolo’s comments, balancing personal criticism with a desire for better execution from his players, seemed to resonate among the group.
Safety Landon Collins responded to those remarks by noting that while Spagnuolo chose to carry some of the burden he isn’t alone in all of this. It was a defense of the head coach that might not have occurred a few weeks earlier.
“Yeah, he took all blame for that. He said he made those calls and he second-guessed them, but we have the execute them, regardless, whatever call he makes on the field and make the best out of it,” Collins said. “From that standpoint, it goes both ends.”