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Four plays that changed the Giants game against Dallas

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Which plays meant the difference between victory and defeat?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the 37-18 final score of the New York Giants loss to the Dallas Cowboys, you wouldn’t expect that it was a close game for the first 50 minutes.

Likewise, it would be hard to guess that this was actually a hard-fought, back-and-forth game in which both teams had opportunities to seal a victory. In fact, at points in the game, the Giants had their chances to walk away with a stunning upset.

As with most games, this one pivoted on a few key plays that drastically shifted each team’s chances of winning.

Golden Tate does his best OBJ impression (NYG + 12 percent)

Third-and-15, DAL 18
Second quarter, 13:49

The game was tied and Dallas was playing poorly coming off of their bye week. But even so, everyone knew that if the Giants needed to score touchdowns, not field goals, if they wanted to come away with the upset win. They got a golden opportunity to steal a possession when Antoine Bethea got an interception on the first play of the game, but couldn’t capitalize. They couldn’t squander another trip inside the red zone with the score tied.

While we could say that Daniel Jones put the ball where only his receiver could make a play on it, Golden Tate had to make an incredible play to not only secure the high throw, but do it with one hand while also getting both feet inbounds. This was a highlight reel catch by any measure and put the Giants in position to score a go-ahead touchdown three plays later on a pass to Cody Latimer.

Saquon Barkley’s catch and run (NYG + 13 percent)

First-and-10, NYG 24
Fourth quarter, 12:32

The Giants were down by 8 points with more than 12 minutes to go in the game. They needed a spark, and they needed points to keep them in the game. Saquon Barkley responded by turning a quick screen pass into a huge 65-yard gain. There have been questions as to whether or not Barkley is fully healthy or if he is still feeling the effects of his high ankle sprain. He hasn’t been able to cut and force missed tackles like he was before the injury, so there is probably merit to those question, but there isn’t anything wrong with his speed. Per NFL NextGenStats, Barkley was (narrowly) the ninth fastest player this week, tipping 20.43 miles per hour on this run.

He wasn’t able to secure the touchdown the Giants desperately needed, and they were ultimately forced to settle for yet another field goal. But when the Giants needed something, Barkley came through with the spark and instant offense they needed.

Amari Cooper’s touchdown (Dallas + 14 percent)

Third-and-NYG 45
Fourth quarter, 8:05

The Giants were still in the game when Dallas got the ball back with 11 minutes left on the clock. All they needed to do was get off the field and score on offense and the Giants’ defense would have a lead to protect at the end of the game.

Instead, they gave up their second 40+ yard play of the game — and 11th of the season — on a huge catch and run for a touchdown to put the Cowboys up by 12 points and suck the air out of the stadium.

Pat Shurmur said Tuesday that they were in a zone defense, hinting that Corey Ballentine shouldn’t have carried Randall Cobb up the seam. Was Baker right in peeling off to cover the flat? Was Ballentine wrong for not picking up Cooper? The Coaches Tape of the game isn’t available yet, but we do have the player tracking data from NextGenStats.

Without being privy to the actual play call, we can’t say for certain who — if anyone — was right. But what we can say with certainty is that somebody screwed something up.

Jarwin’s touchdown and Jones’ interception

These are two separate plays, but together they were the sequence of events around which the game pivoted.

The Giants kicked a field goal to go up 12-3 with 2:53 left in the first half. It wasn’t a dominating lead, but for a team that was widely expected to be run off the field from the opening kick-off, a 9-point lead going into the half was a stunning development.

On Dallas’ next possession, however, the Giants’ penchant for giving up big plays struck again, and breathed life into a Dallas offense which had done everything it could to hand the Giants the game.

That touchdown brought Dallas to within two points of the Giants and put them right back in the game. New York still could have gone into the half with the momentum and the lead if they just methodically drove the field on their final possession of the half.

But instead they went for the splash play to end the half on the highest possible note, but it wound up being another big play for the Cowboys.

Shurmur has defended the decision to be aggressive, saying that they were trying to win the game. That’s the right attitude to take, but with 39 seconds and three timeouts, the Giants didn’t have to try and win it in one play. Instead the ball was picked off and four plays later the Cowboys were able to kick a go-ahead field goal and go into the half with a lead they wouldn’t surrender.