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5 plays that changed the Giants-Cowboys game

Leonard Williams puts on a clinic, and Dante Pettis and Xavier McKinney come up with big plays

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New York Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 23-19, Sunday despite missing an extra point, dropping several interceptions, having Wayne Gallman fumble twice, and while going 0-7 on third down. Those allude to a treacherous, lucky, type of victory, but that wasn’t the case. New York controlled the game, but an Evan Engram interception sparked life in the Cowboys. Did Engram throw the ball? No, but the football, yet again, bounced off his hands and into a defenders’ grasp.

New York did what it had to in Week 17, but that wasn’t enough to win the division. Controlling one’s destiny is the ideal way to secure a playoff berth, and the Giants relied on the Philadelphia Eagles, who legitimately tanked the game against the Washington Football Team for a higher draft selection. Head coach Doug Pederson pulled Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld (go to Google, he exists). There was no argument to suggest he was coaching to win the football game, and evaluating Sudfeld cannot be a higher priority than evaluating your 2020 second-round pick. It’s disgraceful, but it’s reality, and the Giants put themselves in a position where they had to rely on the Eagles - not ideal.

Despite the disappointing ending to this wacky 2020 season, the Giants did have some positive takeaways. Daniel Jones played well, through injury, in the biggest game of his career, Leonard Williams continued to dominate, Xavier McKinney looked really comfortable in the secondary, and the team continues to play with the fervor I want in a football team I support. Here’s five-ish plays that resulted in the final outcome of the Cowboys-Giants game:

Play 1: Shepard steps up

Sterling Shepard saved one of his best performances for the last game of the season. He had 8 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, along with two carries for 24 yards and a touchdown - both scores are above. New York scored on a similar end around against Dallas with Evan Engram in the team’s first matchup. The Giants run play action and flip the ball to Shepard with Kaden Smith (82) and Nick Gates (65) as lead blockers. Jason Garrett has called these plays throughout the season and Dallas did a poor job defending the play. In the second clip, Shepard sells the inside break well on the pivot touchdown reception. It appears to be a choice route by Shepard that is based on the defender’s leverage. Trevon Diggs (27) is off and bites on the inside stem, flowing over the top and giving Shepard the space to break back outside. An excellent route and a hard-nosed finish from Sterling Shepard for six.

Play(s) 2: Pettis time

With the score 13-6 and only a minute left in the half, Jones fires a strike to Dante Pettis’ (13) first touchdown as a Giant. Jones throws it on a line and Pettis does not catch it in a secure manner; the ball hits him in the face mask, he loses his balance, and stumbles towards the goal line. Pettis then dives towards the end zone and barely breaks the plane. The ball comes out, but he falls on top of it and, after further review, it is ruled a touchdown for New York. We’ve seen the Giants leave points on the board before halftime far too often this season, so it was great to see them get the touchdown in this situation.

A low-key big moment of the game was Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy not throwing the challenge flag on this play. This was not a clean catch from Dante Pettis, but it put the Giants into reasonable field goal range, and Graham Gano booted a 50-yard field goal. If McCarthy challenges this play, Dallas would likely have won the challenge and New York would have punted the football only up by one point with time dwindling. A huge missed opportunity from the Dallas coaching staff really benefited the Giants.

Play(s) 3: Key sacks

In the previous two games, Andy Dalton was only sacked four times. The Giants were able to sack Dalton six times in this game. Getting pressure on the quarterback has been an issue for New York this season, but the Giants were able to rattle Dalton. On the first sack, a blitzing Blake Martinez (54) defeated Pollard’s blitz pickup to end Dallas’ first drive on a third-8. Pollard doesn’t get low enough on Martinez and the star linebacker runs right through the attempt. Kyler Fackrell (51) is able to use both his hands to turn the corner and disengage from the Cowboys’ tackle to finish a sack on third-and-9, which forced a field goal. Fackrell did a good job dipping through the contact and readjusting his hands to adapt to what the tackle was trying to do. In the third clip, Leonard Williams bull-rushes through a tackle on a third-and-9 for a sack that forced a punt. In the last clip, Williams becomes unblocked when the Giants bring the pressure and the tackle slides to pick up Martinez. This was the play before the interception that just about sealed the victory for the Giants. Williams had a great game for the Giants and it will be tough for New York to not retain the dual threat defensive lineman.

Play(s) 4: A Leonard Williams sequence

Wayne Gallman fumbles the football three plays into the Giants second drive at their own 26-yard line. This obviously put the Giants defense into a precarious position. Dallas picked up one first down and then Leonard Williams had three consecutive plays that forced a field goal. Williams stacked and threw a tight end to the side to stop Tony Pollard (20) for a 2-yard gain. Then the Cowboys run a backside screen with a disguise to CeeDee Lamb (88) on the other side of the formation. Williams trusts his eyes and gets his hand on the ball to knock the pass away and force a third-and-8. In those two plays, Williams made a huge impact, but it didn’t stop there on that drive. New York comes out with Williams as a nose tackle and they bring three rushers. Williams hits the Dallas lineman with a pull/swim move that disengages himself from the blocker and then he finishes the sack on Dalton to force the field goal. This was such an important sequence for the Giants defense with their backs against the wall.

Play 5: X-Man’s first INT

Williams had a sack the play before this McKinney interception, but almost gets another one here. Earlier in the game, what would have been McKinney’s first interception as a Giant was nullified by a penalty, so it was great to see the second-round pick secure a game winner. Dalton just lobs the ball in the air and McKinney does a good job tracking the football and getting his hands on it before Dalton Schultz (86) was able to make a play on the ball. New York almost found a way to give the ball back to Dallas when Gallman inexplicably dropped it and sat directly on top of it, but luckily Dallas did not recover. McKinney had his best game of the season against the Cowboys and I’m excited for his growth in Patrick Graham’s system.

‘BONUS’ PLAY: “Oh, Evan”

It’s the last five-play article for the season, so I get to add another play. Sadly, it’s another disappointing mistake by former first-round pick, and Pro Bowl tight end, Evan Engram. He possesses a lot of intrigue, but these mistakes are costly and far too frequent. I don’t think singular plays can solely determine an entire season because every play initiates another play and there are so many variables in every play. However, that Engram drop on Thursday Night Football won’t be forgotten. Engram’s been the target of six Giants’ quarterback interceptions and several have bounced off his hands or face mask. It’s become an unfortunate trend that forces Giants fans to view Engram with a forlorn perspective, along with some envy.

Final thoughts

These two teams were trending in opposite directions. The Cowboys won three in a row, and the Giants lost three in a row. Dallas was clicking at the end of the season, but the Giants defense stepped up and extended their playoff hopes till the conclusion of the Sunday Night Football game. The Giants did everything they could in Week 17, but not enough in the previous 16 weeks. It was the Eagles choice to tank the game; as reprehensible as that may be, they still had that choice because the Giants were a six win team. Let this be a learning experience for this young Joe Judge led squad; there were far too many close loses and dumb mistakes that cost the Giants games earlier in the season. It would have been great to see Jones, Judge, and the rest of these young players in a playoff scenario, but that didn’t materialize. I didn’t think the Giants and Eagles rivalry would get immensely more intense due to a game that the Giants weren’t involved in, but that certainly happened with the Eagles’ contentious and amoral decision making.