In the preseason Tom Coughlin mentioned that there were key plays in every game, and that they -- as a team -- talked about their need to win those plays. We're going to take a look at a few of those key plays, the plays that changed the flow of the game.
Giants Fail To Close It Out
The New York Giants got the ball back in the fourth quarter with 5:08 to go in the game.
The Giants had a 23-20 lead and only had to run down the clock to seal the victory. The Giants used their 4-minute offense to move the ball down the field, using the running game and passes over the middle to keep the clock running. The Giants strung together positive plays and capitalized on some defensive penalties by the Cowboys.
After a 16-yard catch by Odell Beckham on 3rd and 14 at the Dallas 20 -- in which the clock stopped after a declined offsides penalty by the Giants -- the Giants found themselves with a 1st and goal on the Dallas 4-yard line.
As expected, the Giants ran the ball on the first two downs, forcing the Cowboys to use the remaining time outs.
On third down, however, the Giants elected to play aggressively and try to pass for what would be a game-sealing touchdown. The result was an incomplete pass when Eli Manning threw the ball away.
"Bad decision on my part. Nobody to blame but me," Coughlin said. The strategy was obviously wrong at the end."
Quarterback Eli Manning was taking the blame himself.
"100 percent on me right there," Manning said. "Bad clock management for that whole deal. I had an option to take the sack, run those 40 seconds off the clock and give them less time.
"That's 100 percent on me. It can't happen."
When the Cowboys got the ball back with 1:30 left, they promptly drove down the field and scored a touchdown to win the game. Had the Giants elected to run the ball on third down, or Eli taken a sack, the clock would have kept running and the Giants would have only left roughly 50 seconds for Dallas to drive the length of the field.
While the other plays changed the flow of the game, this last third down by the Giants change -- lost -- the game.
The Giants stunned their fans, and to some extent the football world, when they released popular punter Steve Weatherford in final cuts. With no other punters on the roster, the Giants made a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers for sophomore Brad Wing.
With just over three minutes to go in the second quarter, the Giants sputtered on offense sputtered to a stop as the offensive line started to show some cracks. Faced with a fourth-and-4 on their own 37, the Giants elected to punt, and brought out the left-footed punter from Australia. The move paid off when Wing boomed a high punt to the side of the field for 50 yards. Though the punt was boomed for great distance, it had enough hang time for the Giants to force a fair catch at the Cowboys' 13-yard line.
It was a great punt that pinned the Cowboys deep in their own territory, which set up the next moment.
Big Plays On Defense
One of the major questions heading into the game was whether or not the Giants could generate any big plays with their no-name defense. That question was answered shortly after Wing pinned Dallas deep in their own territory. As Dallas began to move the ball, a quick pass to Cole Beasley turned out be the first touchdown of the game.
But it was a Giants score.
This was team defense. McBride makes the stop while free agent linebacker Jon Casillas stripped the ball out. Dominique Rodger-Cromartie scooped up the ball and showed that he still has impressive speed despite gaining weight over the offseason as he scored the Giants' first touchdown of the 2015 season.
On the very next offensive play, rookie linebacker Uani Unga intercepted a Tony Romo pass intended for Jason Witten.
Those two plays gave the Giants 10 unanswered points, and began to answer some questions about the Giants' defense.
The Refs Make Their Presence Felt
Following a field goal by Josh Brown in the middle of the 3rd quarter, the Giants had climbed to a 16-6 lead. On the following Dallas possession, the Cowboys strung together an 8-play, 52-yard drive over roughly five minutes of game time. It culminated in a 3rd and 4 on the Giants' 18 yard line, when Tony Romo threw a pass to Terrance Williams.
The ball fell incomplete as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was in excellent position to defend the pass. Though DRC was turned back toward the quarterback and making a play on the ball, and contact was minimal, the officials felt that there was enough to warrant a pass interference call.
That call immediately turned into a touchdown for Dallas, and represented a four-point swing that could have been the difference in the game.