To score or not to score; that should never have been the question.
Yet the usually sure-minded Eli Manning made it an issue in Sunday night's 27-26 loss to the Cowboys, contributing to the chaos on the field in the final two minutes and allowing Dallas to get the ball back and score the winning touchdown with seven seconds left.
Manning admitted he did advise running back Rashad Jennings to stay out of the end zone if the Cowboys were going to allow him easy access in exchange for time left on the clock. But Dallas wouldn't have chosen to fall behind by 10 with less than two minutes left.
"I informed Rashad, 'Hey, if they let you score, just go down at the 1-inch line and don't score,' " Manning said on a conference call Monday evening. "It's my mistake. That did not come from the sideline . . . I can't be the one to inform a back; that's not my decision to do that in that scenario.''
Manning may have had stipulations on his instructions to Jennings, but how the back interpreted them was very different.
"On the first-down play, I was told, 'Rashad, don't score,' " Jennings told ESPN. "On second down, 'Rashad, don't score.' I was tempted to say 'forget it' and go score because I could. But I didn't want to be that guy. But definitely, I was asked not to score."
Manning said he was confused about how many timeouts the Cowboys had after they were not charged with one they called following a 16-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr. The clock stopped at 1:54 after that play because of a defensive offside.
When Dallas called a timeout after Jennings' first-and-goal run, Manning went to the sideline and said he discussed the don't-score strategy with the coaches. "I thought we were on the same page where we were trying to get as close as possible but not get in the end zone," he said. But Tom Coughlin said that wasn't the case.
"In all of those situations, I am very, very reluctant to do anything but score," he said. "Sometimes people get out of the way and allow you to, I'm taking the points most of the time. I understand all about the clock and everything, but obviously, a touchdown puts you back up 10."
Manning may have flashed back to Super Bowl XLVI, when with the Giants trailing 17-15 and facing second-and-goal from the 6, he told Ahmad Bradshaw not to score just as he was about to cross the goal line. Bradshaw did, falling backward for the go-ahead touchdown with 56 seconds left, but that gave the ball back to the Patriots with enough time for a potential winning TD. In that case, the smart play was not to score, and the Giants did and won. On Sunday, the smart play was to score -- and the Giants didn't and lost.
Other gaffes included a pass on third-and-goal from the 1 that, because it was thrown incomplete, saved Dallas 40 or so seconds. Manning admitted he should have taken a sack rather than throw the ball away, and Coughlin took the blame for the call.
The fact that the Giants could have scored a clinching touchdown and didn't -- on purpose -- ranks as one of the most baffling decisions of Manning's career.
"This never happened before," Coughlin said Monday. "I completely trust Eli, always have. He's extremely into the game and aware of all of the circumstances . . . Nothing like that has ever happened. His mind was in the right place here, he just didn't have the facts right, and unfortunately, we didn't get it corrected."
Manning said he spoke to the offense in meetings Monday. "I told them it was my mistake informing Rashad and making that decision," he said. But he said that was not the most nagging error of the sequence. "The third-down decision is what bothers me more than anything. Not making the better decision there and taking the sack, that would have made a bigger difference than anything."