Before Sunday night, every button Ben McAdoo pushed this year was the wrong one.
For a night at least, his decisions turned out to be the right ones.
The Giants stunned the Broncos, winning 23-10 on the road to improve to 1-5 on the season.
That result of one game shouldn’t obscure the mess the Giants have become this year, but with some factors out of his control. McAdoo made the most of the decisions he could make Sunday.
Without his top three wide receivers because of injury, McAdoo walked into the game with a collection of guys with 19 NFL receptions between them, and an offensive line that has been a mess all year. So naturally, he let someone else call the plays (offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan), and shuffled his starting line again (his call this time), and the results followed.
They gained 266 yards (still under their 326.4-yard average), so it wasn’t an avalanche or anything, but they had set the bar pretty low this year and were still playing the best defense in the league.
While this may have been a perfect-storm night and the Broncos were caught unaware and with injuries of their own, it was a much-needed win for McAdoo. With an aging team with high expectations in a high-pressure market, it would have been easy for him to lose control of this team. And it’s far too soon to say he has control of it. He still has the same flawed offensive personnel, and he’s still 1-5 and facing a long season.
But going into this week, it was reasonable to argue that the head coaching job fit him as well as the jacket he wore to his introductory press conference. Letting his offensive coordinator call plays after hesitating to do so earlier this year might have been desperate, and it might have been forced on him from above. But at least it worked.
And now he’ll have Denver to fall back on, a night when everything seemed tailor-made for him.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas did what not that many star receivers could do — he put up stats against Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins. But they didn’t matter that much.
Thomas had six catches for 79 yards in the first half alone, and finished with 10 for 133. Early in the game, he was the one matchup Trevor Siemian could rely on, making plays that other big names such as Dez Bryant have not against “Jackrabbit.”
But Jenkins will certainly trade the stats for the pick-six just before halftime, and the forced fumble in the fourth quarter.
It’s hard to overstate his importance to the Giants defense, especially in light of the suspension of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie which left them without a slot corner.
They had to pay a premium to get him, but he’s shown he’s the kind of corner who can erase not just half a field, but the guys the other team counts on the most.
2. Back to that Giants offensive line.
Credit the Giants for putting Justin Pugh at right tackle, to replace the struggling Bobby Hart. That required moving John Jerry to left guard. They’re playing without their starting center (Weston Richburg) so things have been in flux.
But Pugh and right guard D.J. Fluker gave them something resembling a true strong side, and gave quarterback Eli Manning enough time to work.
Pugh’s in a contract year, and shuffling around might not help his market at a time when top guards are getting paid. It’s hard to argue with the results, however.
3. The Broncos have proven they can get by with defense.
But with their current injury situation, they might have to for a bit.
Thomas was in and out of the second half, and Emmanuel Sanders was lost in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. That’s leaves them short of playmakers, and they had trouble finishing up the game. Rookie Isaiah McKenzie was carted off late as well with a leg injury.
Their offensive issues don’t match the Giants, but they’ll still have to do some adjusting in the coming weeks.
4. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul also had a huge game at a time when they needed it.
He’s been good-not-great this year, with 1.5 sacks in the first five. But he dropped Trevor Siemian three times, and was the kind of disruptive force they needed up front.
Like Jenkins, he’s expensive, so he should make plays like that. But at least he’s making them.
5. John Elway doesn’t whiff often (though he’s probably glad Brock Osweiler didn’t take him up on that “lowball” $16 million a year offer), but hindsight suggests he picked the wrong kicker in 2014.
The team that once employed Matt Prater chose Brandon McManus then, which is fine if you think kickers should be cheap and decent instead of expensive and better.
Since then, Prater is hitting 86.5 percent of his field goals and has hit 19-of-23 from 50 yards or longer.
McManus was an 81.5 percenter entering Sunday night’s game, and was 8-of-16 on 50-plus attempts. Then he missed a 35-yarder in the first quarter and had a 53-yarder blocked in the third.
The Broncos gave him a contract extension in September because he’s been generally good. But he’s now 5-of-10 in Denver this year, which is the place where it’s supposed to be easier to kick.