The game started out with the Giants dominating the Cowboys, giving up just 9 points and 113 yards of offense while racking up 20 points and 239 yards of their own. The Cowboys finally found their feet in the second half and nearly doubled their offensive production to make a game of it.
So what did we learn as the Giants wait to find out if they’re going to the playoffs?
The Giants are scoreboard watchers ... Again
Last week the Giants lost to the Baltimore Ravens and spent the evening watching the scoreboard to see if their Week 17 game would even matter. The Carolina Panthers came up with the win, putting the Giants and Cowboys in the position of playing for the division championship — if the Washington Football Team loses.
Of course, the NFL decided to move the game between Washington and the Philadelphia Eagles to Sunday Night Football, so we won’t know the outcome of that game until sometime around 11:30 or midnight. But as of now the chaos surrounding the NFC East has subsided and the two outcomes are clear:
If Washington wins or ties, they win the division and go to the playoffs.
If Washington loses, the Giants win the division and go to the playoffs based on their tiebreaker over Washington. The 6-10 Giants would also get the dubious distinction of being the worst team, and by extension, from the worst division, to ever make the playoffs. If Washington wins they’d be one of just a few 7-9 teams to win their division.
Sterling Shepard’s big day
The Giants’ receivers have — deservedly — been under fire this season. They have struggled to get open as well as haul in passes when they needed to, and the Giants’ general lack of a passing attack has been a major factor in their anemic offense.
But today Sterling Shepard played a huge role in the Giants’ win. He was targeted 10 times, hauling in 8 reception for 112 yards and a touchdown, as well as a pair of carries for 24 yards and a touchdown. Shepard was all over the field against Dallas and showed just how valuable he can be when allowed to play out of the slot.
His versatility to play wide receiver on occasion is useful, but hopefully the Giants will acquire a true number one “X” receiver to allow Shepard and Darius Slayton to play their natural roles.
The defense shows back up
The Giants’ defense had been holding offensive powerhouses in check on the scoreboard over their three-game losing streak, but teams were largely able to move the ball on the Giants at will. The Giants largely played zone defenses against those teams, and once offenses caught on were able to counter effectively.
This game, the Giants’ defense flipped the script and played more man coverage and sent the kinds of blitzes we saw earlier in the season.
Dallas was likely anticipating a game plan similar to what the Giants played against the Cleveland Browns and caught completely unprepared, taking until midway through the third quarter to adjust.
The Giants were also helped out by Andy Dalton who played very poorly until their offense found some kind of rhythm late in the game. Dallas’ receivers were able to get open, but Dalton repeatedly pulled down the ball in confusion, only to get caught in a coverage sack. There were also several instances when he simply arm-punted the ball down the field, resulting in wobbly, uncatchable passes.
The Giants leaned on their defense hard to close out the game. All told, the Giants’ offense only generated 97 yards and 3 points in the second half while failing to convert a third down all game long. Combined their turnovers, that the Giants managed to come away with the win is remarkable.
Whether the Giants’ season is over remains to be seen, but the defense which has been responsible for any success the team has had this year stepped up to do their part one last time in the 2020 regular season.
The Giants owe the refs, and Mike McCarthy, a fruit basket
This game hinged on a pair of plays in the fourth quarter. The first was a catch by Dante Pettis to make up chunk yardage and put the Giants back in field goal range. Graham Gano converted the attempt and put the Giants up by four — four points that would loom large in the closing minutes of the game.
The second play was Gallman’s second fumble. The Giants ultimately recovered it after review couldn’t find enough evidence to overturn the initial call.
In both cases, the possession of the ball was questionable and the initial decisions by the officials were very significant factors.
Replay showed that Pettis never possessed the football on his reception, bobbling the ball until he was able to trap it on the ground. That play was challengeable and probably would have been overturned, but neither the booth nor Cowboys’ head coach Mike McCarthy called for review. If they had, and the rule was changed to an incomplete pass, the Giants would have been forced to punt with less than 7 minutes remaining and up by 1 point.
That would have put the Cowboys in position to be kicking for the win in the final minute of the game. Instead, they were forced to go for the touchdown, which resulted in Xavier McKinney’s (almost) game-sealing interception.
The second play came after McKinney’s interception when Gallman simply dropped the ball after picking up a first down. The first official there quickly ruled that the Giants had recovered, while the second official — who dug through the pile — ruled that Dallas had recovered. Here the play did go to review, but there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the initial ruling. Had the first official not ruled quickly and gone with what the second official found after the scrum broke up, there likely wouldn’t have been enough evidence to overturn his ruling either.
That could have given Dallas new life and one last chance with great field position.
If either play had been called the other way, or if McCarthy pulled out his challenge flag, this game could have turned out very differently.
Turnovers rear their ugly heads
It was a cold, wet, sloppy game in the Meadowlands, but that isn’t an excuse. Turnovers were (once again) a major problem for the Giants’ offense, with Wayne Gallman and Evan Engram the primary perpetrators. Gallman dropped the ball twice, the first time on a bobbled exchange which turned into Dallas’ first three points, and we just talked about the second.
The other, and more significant turnover came off the hands of Evan Engram. Engram had a good, catchable pass glance off his hands and into the those of a Dallas defensive back. That play led directly to Dallas scoring a touchdown and closing the score to 20-16. It also led to a palpable shift in the momentum of the game as Dallas’ offense found its rhythm and defense played with more aggression.
Though Engram made the Pro Bowl, he has been a disappointment this year. While the plays involving him haven’t entirely been his fault, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he has played his final game as a Giant. Perhaps a fresh start in another situation would be the best for both the Giants and Engram.
While Engram deserves the blame for the interception, that play — and another near-interception on a similar concept — had another factor that probably isn’t going to be talked about: Replay showed that Jones’ tendency to stare down his tight ends still remains. Both plays saw Jones’ head and eyes immediately lock on to his tight end, leading defenders to the spot. The first time was saved by Jaylon Smith getting there too soon and committing pass interference, but regardless of what happens tonight, that needs to be a point of emphasis over the offseason.