Giants on the brink after big gamble comes up short

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The sweet, innocent climb to relevance and respectability that earned the Giants this unexpected meaningful December game is now in grave danger of concluding as little more than a fleeting visit to Big Blue heaven in a hot air balloon that deflated and fell back down to earth.

Of course few should have expected the Giants to upset the Browns with backup Colt McCoy quarterbacking and backup play-caller Freddie Kitchen play-calling, and so now, after Browns 20, Giants 6, the season is on the brink.

Joe Judge’s game plan:

Give Colt McCoy help.

Because Colt McCoy (19-for-31, 221 yards, no TDs, no INTs) wasn’t about to engage Baker Mayfield (27-for-32, 297 yards, two TDs, no INTs) in any shootout.

The Giants weren’t going to fight fire with fire, weren’t going to beat Mayfield and the Browns kicking field goals.

So here came Riverboat Joe.

A trick-play failed-fake field goal on fourth-and-5 at the Cleveland 8 that tricked his own team as much as it tricked the Browns cost them three early points.

A fourth-and-1 failed run at the Cleveland 5 that cost the Giants three more points.

Judge figured that with his backup quarterback and his backup play-caller, he would have to throw caution and convention to the wind.

The wind threw it right back at him.

Completely understand the philosophy. But you also cannot afford to come away empty. Because you are damned if you do.

Baker Mayfield versus Colt McCoy was never going to be a fair fight, plain and simple. Judge was left to try to steal one with Daniel Jones inactive.

McCoy took a few more downfield shots than expected, and he managed himself an error-free game, but there was no magic from him this time.

There was plenty of magic from Mayfield, who didn’t have to worry about quarantined Giants shutdown corner James Bradberry.

There was really only one way for the Giants to win this one: show up as one of those Dream Teams, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The team that showed up with McCoy in Seattle.

That meant every last Giant on the field and off rallying around McCoy like there was no tomorrow to give him the help he needed.

It meant the offensive line making sure that Myles Garrett, and to a lesser degree, Olivier Vernon, did not wreck the game.

It meant running the ball enough to keep McCoy from operating a one-dimensional offense.

It meant special teams again resembling a unit whose head coach has a special teams background.

It meant good old-fashioned New York Giants Dee-Fense.

The Browns, contrary to popular belief, did not try to run it down Big Blue’s throats with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Mayfield threw it down Big Blue’s throats instead.

The fake field goal on the opening possession fizzled because punter Riley Dixon threw high in the middle of the end zone for center Nick Gates.

When Judge went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Cleveland 6 in the second quarter, Wayne Gallman was stuffed after 1 yard.

It was 13-3 at the half and McCoy’s right arm is not equipped to play catch-up.

Next week: The 5-9 Giants travel to Baltimore to face the surging Lamar Jackson Ravens. The first-place 6-8 Washington Football Team host the Panthers. … Ron Rivera versus his former team.

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