Joe Judge’s aggressive coaching mindset was bound to eventually lead him to a bold fourth-down decision.
It happened late in the third quarter Sunday, with the Giants trailing by 14 points and needing 1 yard to get out of the perilous position of their own 30-yard line.
The play call didn’t match the moment.
Daniel Jones didn’t get low to the ground and was stuffed trying to sneak behind center as the Giants turned the ball over on downs and soon were buried in a 36-9 loss to the 49ers at MetLife Stadium.
“I’m not going to apologize for being aggressive,” Judge said. “I can self-scout myself and understand when it is and isn’t time to go for it. At that moment in the game I wanted to be aggressive. You can look at me and say that might not be the best decision. I have confidence in our players, and I want to make sure I play that confidence.”
Judge’s desperation was easy to understand: At that point, the Giants defense offered no indication of stopping the 49ers, whose first six offensive possessions resulted in two touchdowns, three field goals and a missed field goal. All six drives covered at least 33 yards.
So, punting in the face of a 23-9 deficit felt like a surrender. He would have been banking on a self-inflicted wound by the 49ers.
But the predictable decision to jam the ball up the middle was sniffed out by a defensive line playing without three starters. The offensive line was pushed back immediately and Jones had no chance to extend the ball over the logjam. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair crashed forward to prevent Jones from spinning.
“We consider all things,” Judge said. “At that time, we thought that was the best call in our plan. We’ve got to go ahead and make the play.”
On a fourth down at midfield earlier in the half, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett put the ball in the air. Jones backpedaled out of a collapsing pocket and threw the ball behind tight end Evan Engram, who snared it away from his body to keep alive a drive ending in a field goal.
This time, Garrett kept the ball in the hands of his leading rusher.
Yes, in the first game with Saquon Barkley sidelined for the rest of the season, Jones and the read-option keeper posed the best threat on the ground. After three quarters, he had 49 rushing yards compared to Devonta Freeman’s 10 and starter Wayne Gallman’s 7.
“I wasn’t surprised by the call,” Jones said. “In that situation, I appreciate the coach’s confidence he had in us and giving us the opportunity to convert. I have to do a better job finding the opening there and getting a yard.”
The 49ers needed only four plays to turn the short field into a touchdown, with Justin Wilson taking a screen pass 19 yards to account for most of the 30.