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Plays that changed the game in Giants’ season-ending loss to Dallas Cowboys

Which plays contributed the most to Sunday’s loss?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 New York Giants season has been interesting, if nothing else. That hasn’t always had a positive connotation attached, but there was always something. The regular season finale against the Dallas Cowboys was certainly something. It started flat and ended in only a way the Giants could turn the page to 2019.

These are some of the most important plays of the game by Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA), per data provided by nflscrapR. Explainers here (WPA) and here (EPA).

Both WPA and EPA presented from the perspective of the offense.

12:04 remaining, first quarter - A red zone interception

EPA: minus-4.21 | WPA: minus-10.1 percent (NYG 60.4 percent → 50.3 percent)

The Giants got the ball to start the game and drove down to the Dallas 6-yard line. Facing a 3rd-and-4, the Giants came out in 12 personnel with Evan Engram isolated to the left side with Sterling Shepard and Bennie Fowler to the right. Scott Simonson motioned from the right to left and stayed in to block at the snap along with Saquon Barkley. That gave the Giants a 7-on-4 advantage blocking, but a 3-on-7 disadvantage in the secondary. That led to a double covered Shepard on a corner route and a bad decision on the part of Eli Manning. There was no open window for the pass and Chido Awuzie came down with the interception.

4:24 remaining, first quarter - Call it what you want

EPA: minus-5.9 | WPA: minus-16.3 percent (NYG 58.1 percent → 41.8 percent)

Later in the first quarter, the Giants faced a 2nd-and-10 from the Dallas 43. The Giants ran play-action to Wayne Gallman but left Scott Simonson to block Demarcus Lawrence. That proved to be a mistake. Lawrence, one of the best pass rushers in the league, had no problem getting around Simonson and knocking the ball out of Manning’s hand. The ball floated into the arms of Antwuan Woods (99), who stumbled for a three-yard return. The play was originally called an interception, but it was later changed to a strip-sack for Lawrence. Either way, it was a costly turnover for the Giants.

8:17 remaining, second quarter - A new tight end

EPA: 3.7 | WPA: 12.8 percent (NYG 40.6 percent → 27.8 percent)

Jason Witten terrorized the Giants throughout his career. Witten retired and is now terrorizing Monday Night Football viewers, but Dallas found a new tight end to take his place. Heading into this game, Blake Jarwin only had 20 receptions for 188 yards on the season but had quite a day in the Meadowlands. Jarwin started this play — a 3rd-and-12 from the Giants’ 13 — inline to the left and found a wide hole in the Giants’ zone coverage. Linebacker Nate Stupar (57) allowed Jarwin to run past him, but Michael Thomas (31) was too far over to the sideline to pick him up. This is a miscommunication that happens when non-starters are playing late in the season.

1:55 remaining, second quarter - Jarwin scores again

EPA: 4.34 | WPA: 7.8 percent (NYG 18.7 percent → 10.9 percent)

Covering tight ends has been a years-long problem for the Giants that has spanned multiple coordinators. This year was different — the Giants were 11th in DVOA against opposing tight ends heading into Week 17. But Week 17 happened. Jarwin’s second touchdown came just after the two-minute warning in the first half. Dallas faced a 3rd-and-9 just inside the red zone and came out in an empty set. Jarwin was the middle receiver in the trips side between Dalton Schultz and Amari Cooper. The Giants again struggled to pass off the tight end in zone coverage. Rookie Sean Chandler lined up across from Jarwin, but took Schultz when the rookie tight end broke his route at the first down line. That left Jarwin on Michael Thomas, who was turned around in coverage, which left a wide open lane to the end zone.

:22 remaining, second quarter - Odell Latimer Jr.

EPA: 4.71 | WPA: 11.8 percent (NYG 15.4 percent → 27.2 percent)

The Giants answered back with a 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that needed only 1:35. It was capped with a 21-yard touchdown to Cody Latimer. On a 3rd-and-10, Latimer ran a straight go-route down the left sideline. He was covered tightly by Byron Jones, who per Sports Info Solutions, had not allowed a touchdown on 67 targets in 2018 before this game. Latimer had little separation on the route and only one hand to catch, but still came down with the ball in bounds. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, that pass had just a 13.8 percent completion probability, the ninth-least likely completion of the entire season.

6:57 remaining, third quarter - Beasley converts on fourth

EPA: 3.54 | WPA: 13 percent (NYG 39 percent → 26 percent)

Dallas got the ball to start the second half, but the Giants forced a punt and the kicked a field goal to bring the score to 14-10. On the next drive, the Cowboys faced a fourth-and-2 from their own 43-yard line. Before this week, the Cowboys had faced a 4th-and-1 or 2 between their own 40 and midfield three times and punted twice, but coaches tend to go for it more often on fourth down in Week 17 because the risk aversion disappears and that’s what Dallas did. The Cowboys set up a simple slant with Cole Beasley in the slot against Sean Chandler and the completion gained 11 yards.

5:10 remaining, third quarter - Return of the Jarwin

EPA: 4.08 | WPA: 11.4 percent (NYG 27.2 percent → 15.8 percent)

Three plays later, the Cowboys went back to Blake Jarwin and they were back in the end zone. On a 3rd-and-3 from the Giants’ 39 — again in empty — Dak Prescott was forced out of the pocket by pressure from Olivier Vernon and B.J. Hill. While outside of the pocket, Prescott kept his eyes downfield and found an open Jarwin inside the 20 between three Giants. B.W. Webb overpursued, Sean Chandler slipped, and B.J. Goodson missed a tackle from behind. Curtis Riley made no attempt at a tackle and Jarwin jogged into the end zone for his third touchdown of the game. On his eight targets, Jarwin was responsible for 35.6 percent Win Probability Added.

4:22 remaining, third quarter - Barkley makes his break

EPA: 5.47 | WPA: 12.9 percent (NYG 12.2 percent → 25.2 percent)

On the Giants’ next drive, they faced a 2nd-and-20 from their own 17 thanks to a holding penalty on Jamon Brown. They ran a draw and Saquon Barkley got room to run thanks to blocks from Brown and Cody Latimer, and enough speed to make Chido Awuzie flail on a tackle attempt. Barkley was eventually brought down by Jeff Heath after a gain of 68 yards. The run accounted for 62.4 percent of Barkley’s rushing yards for the game and 168 percent of his Expected Points Added. The Giants scored on an Evan Engram touchdown and a successful two-point conversion, also to Engram, to make the game 21-18.

12:47 remaining, fourth quarter - Engram’s big gain

EPA: 3.87 | WPA: 14.4 percent (NYG 38.9 percent → 53.3 percent)

The Giants forced a Cowboys punt on the following drive but faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 35 when they got the ball back. They went empty themselves, something they had only done on 38 pass plays heading into the game, per Sports Info Solutions. That got Evan Engram matched up in the slot against Jeff Heath. Engram ran a quick out just past the sticks and Heath was close in coverage. Per Next Gen Stats, Engram’s catch had an expected zero yards after the catch. Instead, Heath — one of the league’s worst tacklers (a 25 percent broken tackle rate this season per SIS) — failed to bring Engram down and the tight end ran 44 yards up the sideline for a total gain of 51. Three plays later the Giants took the lead on a 2-yard Wayne Gallman run.

9:39 remaining, fourth quarter - An Allen Hurns sighting

EPA: 4.76 | WPA: 19.1 percent (NYG 62.4 percent → 43.3 percent)

Dallas came right back with a scoring drive, one that involved a big play of their own. On a 3rd-and-10 near midfield, Dak Prescott was again forced to flee the pocket but again kept his eyes downfield looking for a pass. Allen Hurns was able to shake free past Tony Lippett and hauled in a pass that went for 49 yards after being forced out of bounds by Janoris Jenkins. Last year in a lost season, the effort of Jenkins was questioned, but that could not be said on this play. The veteran cornerback started on the opposite side of the field as Hurns and traveled 62.5 yards to get to the receiver on the play. Dallas scored and took the lead back on the next play.

3:21 remaining, fourth quarter - A first-round fumble

EPA: minus-4.6 percent | WPA: minus-19.1 percent (NYG 70.8 percent → 89.9 percent)

By the time the Cowboys got the ball back, they were trailing again thanks to a 12-play, 74-yard drive and a Saquon Barkley touchdown leap. With the need to move the ball quickly, Dak Prescott hit Amari Cooper on an in and as Janoris Jenkins wrapped him up, Kerry Wynn ran up to deliver a big hit that knocked the ball out. B.J. Goodson recovered the fumble and ran with it inside the red zone.

1:19 remaining, fourth quarter - Beasley did what?

EPA: 5.54 | WPA: 40.6 percent (NYG 93.5 percent → 52.9 percent)

The Giants went backward on that drive and settled for a field goal. With 2:29 remaining in the game, the Cowboys took the ball with a 14 percent chance to win. Dallas was able to move the ball down the field but faced a 4th-and-15 from the Giants’ 32, thanks to a false start. Again the Giants got pressure and Prescott had to leave the pocket. He turned around, scrambled to his left, and floated a pass to Cole Beasley in the back of the end zone. The pass was caught but initially ruled out of bounds until replay showed Beasley was able to get a knee in bounds with possession of the ball. Dallas had a successful two-point conversion for the lead and the Giants had four straight incomplete passes on the next drive despite starting with the ball on their own 48-yard line needing only a field goal to win.