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  • A four-part look at what exactly happened to McAdoo and his New York Giants on a dreary Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford, N.J.
By Conor Orr
November 05, 2017

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nightmares can happen any time.

The myth that horrible things are reserved for darkness and desolation makes the truth much harder to swallow: Even at 1 p.m. on a dreary but otherwise routine Sunday, your worst fears can explode out of the ground and walls and envelop you for the better part of 60 minutes.

Here, in four acts, is a look at what happened to Ben McAdoo and the Giants against the Rams in an 51–17 loss—the most points allowed by the Giants since moving to New Jersey in 1976.

SCENE: A rain-dampened MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Underneath an almost cartoonish slate grey sky—so dark that stadium nightlights were turned on in the early afternoon—the Giants take the field against the Los Angeles Rams. Rams head coach Sean McVay, a 31-year-old wunderkind, takes the field in a “Salute to Service” windbreaker and khakis. An unpredictable play caller with an armada of speedy weapons, he is what so many Giants fans expected their own head coach to be. McAdoo, wearing royal blue sweatpants and an olive green “Salute to Service” hooded sweatshirt, looks out at the field with his massive play-call sheet by his side. He surrendered play-calling duties officially three weeks ago. It is now mostly used as a device to pat players on the helmet or back after a positive play.

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ACT I: The Giants used to live out of their 11 personnel sets, with three field-stretching wide receivers, a pass-catching running back and a tight end. This afternoon, fearing the worst from Rams pass-rushing defensive tackle Aaron Donald, those three wideouts were traded in for three tight ends. On the FOX broadcast, the play by play announcer says Eli Manning told them earlier in the week the plan was to run, run and hope for manageable on third down. This was not the case here, as a third-and-four with 13:03 to go in the first turned into a third-and-nine thanks to a false start by guard D.J. Fluker. The change forced Manning back in the shotgun and Donald, lining heads up on Fluker, grabbed the offensive lineman by his shoulders and ripped his inside arm toward the backfield. There was no one between Donald and Manning, allowing the bullish defensive tackle to wrap his hands around the quarterback’s side and back, punching the ball out in the process.

The Rams would take over at their own 48-yard line and score four plays later (it appeared the first two plays were the same running play to Todd Gurley just out of different formations) on a pass from Jared Goff to Tyler Higbee.

7–0, Rams.

ACT II: Leading by just three in the second quarter, the Rams line up for a third-and-33 at their own 48-yard line. Goff has Gurley in the shotgun to his immediate right, and Sammy Watkins out wide left. To the right, Cooper Kupp is in the slot, and Robert Woods is a few yards closer to the Rams’ sideline. Higbee is all the way out wide. Goff takes two steps backward and fires a pass to Woods, who turns around to find not a single Giants defender within four yards. Massive left tackle Andrew Whitworth charges out ahead of Woods and knocks safety Ross Cockrell onto his back. Woods cuts off the block, running right toward the Giants sideline before a straight lane opens to the end zone. Watkins engages cornerback Eli Apple—the last man with a chance to stop Woods—allowing for the unbelievable touchdown. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo shakes his head. Injured defensive end Olivier Vernon looks on with his arms folded. Eli Manning prepares for another possession.

17–7, Rams.

ACT III: After a Giants three-and-out (A missed deep ball to a wide-open Sterling Shephard, an Orleans Darkwa run left for three yards and a screen pass to Shane Vereen for two yards), the Rams pass to Woods for four yards, setting up a second-and-six at their own 33-yard line. Goff, with three receivers bunched to his right and Watkins wide left, audibles into a fake run to Todd Gurley to the left side. With his back foot near the 22-yard line, Goff looks downfield to see Watkins with at least three yards of separation on Giants safety Landon Collins. The Giants were in a zone, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie bailed on Watkins to cover a route closer to his area. Collins shifted late as Watkins reached his top speed and the former top five draft pick needed just five steps to trot into the end zone with the ball in hand. McVay, smiling, points at Watkins and then breaks into a modified Tiger Woods-style fist pump.

24–7, Rams.

INTERMISSION: Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas misses a 45-yard field goal that he pushed to the right. McAdoo gets his headset unclipped and walks toward the tunnel speaking only to a sideline reporter before disappearing from sight. A band of servicemen and women play Bill Withers classic “Lean on Me” for the remaining fans, who are mostly cloaked in different rain-resistant plastic ponchos.

ACT IV: McAdoo’s second half seems like a blur. For the most part, he maintains a slow pace between the 50-yard line and the 40. He crosses and uncrosses his arms, staring at the field with the look of a man who forgot whether he left his car windows open during this rainstorm. Gurley scores seven plays into the third quarter, making the score 34–10, Rams. Gurley rumbles 44 yards downfield to set up a four-yard Woods touchdown with no defender in sight—41–10, Rams. Shane Vereen drops a screen pass on third-and-one, leading to a blocked punt and, three plays later, another Gurley score—48–10 Rams. Each time, the Giants offense booed on and off the field. The third quarter ends with a slow trickle of fans walking up the slick, concrete steps and toward the exits.

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FINALE: With questions about his job security inevitably facing him at the podium in several minutes—just this past week, McAdoo suspended his second starting cornerback of the season, furthering the notion that he’s at odds with his locker room—the coach ends the fourth quarter with a few fans chanting “We Want Coughlin.” When the clock strikes zero, McAdoo unhooks his radio headset and jogs to midfield, where he meets McVay in a half hug, half handshake. He begins a slow, 60-yard walk to the tunnel with a pair of photographers running ahead of him to capture his current state.

In some ways, he is a sympathetic figure. Hired (relatively) young and labeled the next Andy Reid, he made the playoffs in his first year before a top-heavy roster with Super Bowl expectations caved underneath him. His transcendent star receiver, Odell Beckham, is out for the year. So is the team’s second-best wideout, Brandon Marshall. The offensive line is in pieces. None of that matters now because he, alone, is responsible for finding the right things to say in the locker room and to the press. But sometimes there is no explaining a nightmare. There is only relief when it finally ends.

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