The New York Giants had seen this horror flick before. Five times last season, they had a lead in the fourth quarter in a game they eventually lost. No other team in NFL history had blown more fourth-quarter leads. And every game came down to one first down they couldn't get or one defensive stop they couldn't make.
In the first game of the Ben McAdoo era on Sunday, the Giants completely flipped the script.
No, it wasn't pretty or perfect, and the Giants will need to get a lot better as the weeks go on, but the fact that they held on to a 20-19 lead and beat the Dallas Cowboys on the road Sunday was incredibly encouraging. The offense actually picked up two first downs, ran nearly three minutes off the clock and forced the Cowboys to use all three of their timeouts on their last drive late in the fourth quarter. And when the Cowboys got the ball with 1:05 remaining, the Giants did what they had done on Dallas' two previous drives in the fourth quarter: They stopped them and didn't let them score.
"We found a path to victory," McAdoo said. "I'm proud of the guys for fighting through."
Sure, they got a break when the game ended with Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams' boneheaded decision to stay inbounds while the clock ran out with the Cowboys driving toward at least the edge of kicker Dan Bailey's field goal range. Yes, the Giants' defense was helped when rookie quarterback Dak Prescott missed an open Jason Witten. And OK, the Giants' offense didn't get the one first down that would've ended the game with the ball in their hands when they were forced to punt with 1:12 left in the game.
Never mind all that; focus on the big picture. It's opening day and the Giants are still a work in progress. The most important thing is they did what they had to do to win.
Last season, they couldn't. As bad as they looked at times during their 6-10 disaster, they never forgot those five games they could have, perhaps should have, won. It's simple to say they were just a handful of plays from turning a 6-10 horror show into an 11-5 celebration, even if it was at least partially true.
McAdoo knew that. He said as much back in February, just a month after getting the Giants coaching job, when he laid out his plans to "figure out a way to close these games out."
They started by doing what they almost never did last year -- ran the ball in the fourth quarter. When they got the ball at their own 20 with 3:57 remaining, Rashad Jennings ran seven times for 40 yards and two first downs, and fell just a yard short of another. One drive earlier, Shane Vereen had the ground game going, rushing three times for 21 yards. They got those yards at a time when the Cowboys had to know the Giants were running. And the Giants' much-maligned offensive line refused to be pushed around.
On defense, the Giants didn't exactly make Prescott uncomfortable on the final drive, as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo decided to concentrate on dropping everyone into coverage. The result was a lot for Prescott to digest in a high-pressure moment and not a lot of open options. Even at the end, had Williams ran out of bounds, he still would have left the Cowboys staring at a 55-60-yard field goal.
It's hard to ask the defense to do better than that.
"It was great to see the defense come up with a stop at the end there," McAdoo said. "They battled all night."
Of course, things weren't perfect. The offensive line had its bad moments, and the $200 million defense didn't generate the pass rush it should have against a rookie quarterback. They let Prescott manage the game so well that the Cowboys held the ball for 12 1/2 minutes of the first quarter, 22 minutes of the first half and nearly 37 minutes overall. That kept the Giants' offense on the sidelines, and they're going to need to be on the field much more often to win games.
But those are minor details compared to what's important: The win on the road in Dallas on opening day that they couldn't get one year earlier. That loss set a miserable tone for what became a miserable season.
The Giants are hoping this one sets the tone in exactly the opposite way.