Mike Kafka opened eyes Sunday with an impressive showing to begin what amounts to a seven-game audition for his next job.
The Giants’ offensive coordinator sprung receivers wide-open to spark several explosive plays for undrafted rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito in a 31-19 win at Washington.
“They made it easy for me today,” DeVito said after completing 18-of-26 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
In the process, Kafka outshined fellow Andy Reid protégé Eric Bieniemy, the Commanders’ offensive coordinator who has been championed nationally as a deserving head coach candidate.
“Kafka called a good game, and [there were] some wide open guys,” head coach Brian Daboll said. “Hit some good, big plays. Good play designs.”
Changes on Daboll’s staff are inevitable once this dismal season concludes.
Assuming Daboll stays on as head coach, there could be two or even three coordinator changes, depending on the team’s final six results and internal fallout.
The Giants (13.5 points per game) have the NFL’s lowest-scoring offense, so the autopsy already has started there.
Kafka, 36, had strong head coaching interviews with the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans last spring coming off an impressive offensive performance by Daboll’s and Kafka’s offense in a Wild Card road win over the Minnesota Vikings.
But this season’s failure is a poor reflection on everyone associated with the Giants offense. So anything positive Kafka can muster down the stretch could help his case wherever he goes next.
And what he did on Sunday to help DeVito was eye-opening, starting with his increased use of Saquon Barkley as a receiver.
He isolated Barkley on linebacker Jamin Davis out of the backfield for a 24-yard TD in the first quarter. And he leaked him out through the line in the red zone for a 5-yard TD catch on safety Kam Curl in the fourth quarter.
“It felt great,” Barkley said. “Especially the first one, which is a play that I’ve been asking for for a long time.”
Kafka’s most impressive calls then had wide receiver Darius Slayton and tight end Daniel Bellinger more open than they’ve been all season. Both were play action passes that leaked the intended receiver out as a dummy blocker into space to the left sideline.
Slayton’s was a 40-yard TD reception in the first quarter on third and short, with the receiver lined up tight to the formation and crossing the field. And Bellinger’s was a 26-yard catch in the fourth to set up Barkley’s second score, with Bellinger lined up as a fullback in I-formation before sneaking out.
“As soon as they gave me the wristband number [for Bellinger’s play] and I looked at it and saw what it was, I was like ‘Yeah, we’ve had that one drawn up for a little while,’” DeVito said. “Just been waiting to pull the trigger at the right moment. And there it was. Perfect execution by everybody else on it, and it’s a good play.”
Nothing was perfect Sunday, obviously, including Kafka’s gameplan. He abandoned the run early when it wasn’t working, a trademark staple of Reid’s that Bieniemy has taken to Washington. DeVito also was sacked an absurd nine times.
By Daboll’s own admission, though, “they weren’t all on the offensive line.” And they weren’t on the play-caller, either.
DeVito is still trying to learn how to keep his eyes downfield or get the ball out against an NFL pass rush, which is no easy task for a developmental QB who wasn’t supposed to play a single snap this season.
But that’s what makes Kafka’s 24-point output on offense so impressive, even aided so often by short fields created by the defense’s turnovers: he did it with a young quarterback who needs everything to line up properly right now to be comfortable and make big plays.
“It’s all about the play-calling and executing the plays,” DeVito said. “Sometimes we get got by the defense and different coverages versus what we don’t want, and it’s up to me to just make the right decision and put us in a good situation. But when we have the defense that we want versus certain plays, my job’s easy. I just give it to the guys in space and let them do what they do. And they made it easy for me today.”