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Giants 49, Saints 52: The play that changed the game

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The Giants matched the Saints blow for blow. But in the end, one play determined the outcome of the game.

Brad Wing of the Giants drew a game-deciding face mask penalty on this play
Brad Wing of the Giants drew a game-deciding face mask penalty on this play
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

We can talk about the utter lack of defense on behalf of the New York Giants, though they did manage to come away with a pair of interceptions*.

*The second interception was ultimately ruled a fumble returned for a touchdown. While this is good for Drew Brees' stat line, its a semantic that doesn't effect the game.

Or we could talk about the incredible night by the Giants offense, particularly by Odell Beckham and Eli Manning.

But if this is going to be about the plays that changed the game ... Really there is only one.

This game was a track meet from start to finish, like a game between Baylor and West Virginia ... But with more yards. It was a 60-minute long two-minute drill. It was the first time I have ever seen two teams blow each other out, in the same game, at the same time.

But in the end, despite the nuclear-powered offense from both sidelines, this game turned on a single play, and it is one that absolutely has to be talked about.

That play, of course was the Saints' final punt return.

For some reason Brad Wing, who had been terrific all game long, elected to change his punting style. Prior to the penultimate play, Wing had been crushing punts using a traditional style, getting 62, 57, and 47 yards, with all of six yards in returns allowed.

On the final punt, Wing switched to the "Aussie" style of punting. And while he punted for 46 yards, a breakdown in the coverage allowed for a 24-yard return, to the Giants' 47-yard line. That was bad enough, as it put the Saints in range for a "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone. What is worse was after Craig Dahl forced a fumble, which the Saints recovered, Wing got his hand on the recovering player's facemask. That ultimately moved the Saints into position for the winning field goal. That punt with 25 seconds remaining on the game clock, was the pivot point for the entire game. The 15 additional yards effectively won the game for the Saints.

And therein lies the rub, and why this play needs to be talked about.

When the officials originally threw the flag, it was not for a penalty on Wing. Replay focused on another Giant. The flag was picked up, however, and the officials declared that there was no flag on the play after it became apparent that the Giants' forearm scraped across Marcus Murphy's face mask, but there was no grasping

After a riotous boo from the New Orleans crowd, the officials assessed the 15-yard penalty on Wing. A review of the play shows that Wing did indeed grab Snead's face mask. Of course, Snead also had a finger in Wing's face mask as well.

We have yet to get a complete or coherent explanation of that series of events from the NFL or the head of officiating. By rule, the administration of penalties is not reviewable (Section 15, article 5, rule c), and I can find no line in the NFL rule book that gives the officials the ability to assess penalties off of reviews.

And apparently neither could Tom Coughlin.

Ultimately, the Giants lost because they couldn't stop the Saints.

Of course, the Saints couldn't stop the Giants either.

If your quarterback goes 30-of-41, for 350 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions, and you win the turnover battle, and have fewer yards off of penalties, you should have a reasonable expectation of winning. It all came down to that second to last play. Wing has, and can, make a better punt than that. The Giants can, and have, covered returns better.

And Wing even deserved the penalty -- although there's an argument to be made that offsetting penalties is more appropriate -- however the procedure by which the officials arrived at their conclusion is very suspect. Given that the NFL has had to apologize for officiating mistakes nearly every week, including a pair of Week 1 blunders that directly contributed to the Giants loss in Dallas, this needs to be talked about.

But for the Giants, they need to put this behind them and build on the resilience that let them twice erase 14-point deficits; because it's on to Tampa.