This was an exciting, hard-fought game that felt like a true back-and-forth competition. Both of these teams are used to playing in high-pressure situations and almost all of their games this season have been decided by one score.
Games that are this close — and this exciting — often have details that slip through the cracks of our recollection. Let’s take a quick look at the stats and analytics from the game to see what details might have gotten lost in the haze of adrenaline that colored the last three minutes of the game.
Plays of the game
The win probability chart from this game was absolutely wild, with some massive swings in win probability over the course of the second half.
This felt like a much closer game than the chart would suggest, largely because it factors in that the Vikings were favored by 4.5 points at the start of the game. During the game, it felt as though both teams were on the verge of seizing control and pulling away. And that might be what those jagged jumps in win probability reflect. But, as we can see from now they always reverted, neither team was able to really separate itself from the other.
Most Win Probability added
The biggest play of the game in terms of win probability added was, of course, Greg Joseph’s game-winning field goal. That kick was worth 35 points in win probability, and all Joseph had to do was shatter his previous career long by five yards with the pressure at its absolute highest.
The second-biggest play of the game came almost immediately before Joseph’s game-winning kick when Landon Collins sacked Kirk Cousins.
That was one of the more mystifying plays of the game as Cousins held the ball for a subjective eternity as he searched for an outlet. Rather than throwing the ball away to stop the clock and preserve yardage, Cousins took a devastating sack that knocked the Vikings from a 71 percent chance to win down to 50. Of course, his very next play was a 17-yard pass to Justin Jefferson that got most of that lost win probability back.
Most Expected Points added
The two biggest plays of the game had identical -5.6 expected points added (or rather, 5.6 expected points lost) for the Giants.
They were, unsurprisingly, Daniel Jones’ interception and Daniel Bellinger’s fumble. Those two plays stopped the Giants’ offense cold and were responsible for big swings in the flow of the game. Fortunately, the Giants’ defense picked up the offense and those two turnovers only amounted to three points for the Vikings. The fumble (eventually) turned into a field goal, while the interception ultimately turned into a turnover on downs (more on that in a bit).
The next two biggest plays in terms of expected points were Saquon Barkley’s touchdown run (+5.0 expected points) and Justin Jefferson’s 17-yard touchdown reception (+3.5 expected points).
Fourth downs told the tale
One of the stories of this game that might not get much press is how both teams played in high-leverage situations. Three plays in particular stand out as being particularly game defining.
The first was Kirk Cousins’ pass to Justin Jefferson on fourth-and-2 with 9:01 left in the fourth quarter. The Vikings failed to convert on that play after Adam Thielen ran the wrong route and pulled coverage toward Justin Jefferson and constricted the catch window. There has been some conversation as to whether or not the Vikings made the right call in being aggressive there, but the odds suggested that attempting to convert the fourth down was the right call.
Of course, whether attempting a deep shot was the right way to go about going for it is another matter entirely. We don’t know if the attempt would have been successful if it had been correctly executed. But even so, that’s one of those calls thats heralded as “bold” if it works and “stupid” if it doesn’t.
The next is the blocked punt to set the Vikings up on the Giants’ 29-yard line.
The Giants obviously made the correct call to punt there, as attempting to convert a fourth-and-4 from your own 23-yard line is the kind of thing you only do if you’re absolutely desperate.
Adding 2.5 points to your win probability is no small thing, and Jamie Gillan had made some impressive punts this game. He has the leg to truly flip the field and the Giants’ defense had been playing great this game.
What the model didn’t predict was the impact of a blocked punt.
In this case, that failure proved to be potentially disastrous for the Giants. Minnesota had a 68 percent chance of winning when Daniel Jones’ pass to Isaiah Hodgins fell incomplete on third down. After the blocked punt, however, Minnesota had an 80 percent chance of winning — a 12-point swing on what should have been a routine play.
Kirk Cousins would find T.J. Hockenson for a touchdown five plays after that blocked punt.
Finally we come to the Giants’ fourth-and-2 from the Vikings’ 27-yard line on the ensuing drive. Going for it was an absolutely easy decision, as the Giants were down by eight points and a field goal would likely have been the same a surrender.
Once again, the model doesn’t account for the offense not only converting the first down, but scoring the touchdown. In this case, a 3.6 points of win probability turned into a whopping 15 points of win probability, dropping the Vikings’ odds of winning from 93 percent to 78 percent.
So while the decision to go for it was a no-brainer, what would have been a big play became a play that absolutely would have been “The Play Of The Game” in almost any other game.
It’s a mark of how wild this game was that it was only the sixth biggest play of the game.
Credit to the defense
The Giants were lead by their defense in their win over the Washington Commanders a week ago. There’s a pretty good argument that they wouldn’t have been in position to win this week without the play of their defense, either.
The Giants got four sacks and 11 quarterback hits over the course of the game. The Giants’ front four, as well as Wink Martindale’s blitz schemes, were generating consistent pressure on Kirk Cousins.
Of course, the Vikings’ defense got pressure on Daniel Jones as well. They logged three sacks, a forced fumble, and 11 quarterback hits.
It’s actually fairly remarkable how similarly the two defensive fronts played this game.
The effect of the pressure on Cousins was noticeable when we step back and compare to his season-long stats.
To start, Cousins’ average throw was 2.72 seconds, down from his season-average of 2.82. While a tenth of a second doesn’t sound like much, it’s significant at the NFL level — particularly considering Cousins had several plays where he held the ball longer than he should have.
Cousins was also forced to rely on shorter throws than he has throughout the season. His average intended pass was over half a yard shorter against the Giants than his season average (7.1 to 7.7 intended air yards), while his average completion was 1.4 yards shorter (4.6 to 6 converted air yards).
The Giants also did a much better job containing the run than they did a week ago.
Dalvin Cook still had a solid day, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. But still that’s a long way off from the 7.1 Brian Robinson averaged. As we might have expected, he did most of his damage against the perimeter of the Giants’ defense. This is still a marked improvement for one of the worst run defenses in the NFL.
It isn’t a controversial statement to say that the Giants’ defense was overmatched on the back end this game. However, we should credit the defense for doing as much as they did to hold a good Vikings’ offense in check.