Perhaps it’s no surprise that a regular Giants season that began with five straight losses, a win in their first eight games, and a mind-boggling load in playoff competition towards the end of the season doesn’t end with a routine, humble game. No, this perverted Giants season deserves to end with gripping drama, slapstick failure and, ultimately, gratifying perseverance.
Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys with a possible postseason berth did not disappoint. In a frantic manner, the Giants spent most of the second half desperately clinging to a weak 11-point first-half lead they had built.
Tension built up through the final 58 seconds of regulation, with the staggering giants still 4 points ahead as game officers crouched and then turned to a video replay to decide what ended up being a shock build-up had happened by running Wayne Gallman back at the 39-yard line of the Giants.
Several players from both teams pounced on Gallman as he appeared awkwardly right on top of the loose soccer ball that had inexplicably slipped out of his hands at the end of a crucial run. And when officers combed through the bulk of twisted bodies on top of him, there was only more confusion about the outcome when two officers initially pointed in separate directions – one loaned Dallas the property, the other the giants. Moments later, officials deliberated and decided that not only had the Giants kept the soccer ball, but that Gallman had first picked up a key that enabled them to lose the remaining watch.
Still, a final, excruciating recheck followed, after which the call to the field was not undone. The Giants (6-10) had a 23-19 win that ended the team’s seven-game losing streak against Dallas (6-10). Unfortunately, when the Washington Football Team (7-9) defeated the Eagles (4-11-1) in Philadelphia on Sunday night and were crowned champions of the NFC East, the Giants’ playoff hopes ran out.
The fumbling and who found it again wasn’t the only controversial late game sequence in the game on Sunday. After about seven minutes in the fourth quarter, Giants wide receiver Dante Pettis scored a 10-yard pass, which proved crucial when Giants square kicker Graham Gano scored a 50-yard field goal on the next game that put the Giants ahead expanded 23-19. But video reruns of the Pettis reception appeared to show that the soccer ball was contacting the turf in a way that would have declared the pass incomplete. Although an incompleteness would have put the Giants out of the field goal position, Dallas coach Mike McCarthy did not challenge the game.
The Pettis catch and the Gano field goal he set became significant in the subsequent possession of the ball when Dallas drove into the Giants’ 10-yard line in less than two minutes. While the Cowboys were pushed back when quarterback Andy Dalton was fired from Giants lineman Leonard Williams, without Gano’s field goal they could have played conservatively for a field goal attempt that would have given them the lead. Instead, Dalton needed a touchdown, threw himself on a third-and-17 and again, under pressure from Williams, threw a desperate pass into the end zone, which was intercepted by Xavier McKinney, the Giants’ rookie security guard.
McCarthy said he did not challenge the Pettis reception because it was “too close” and a “bang-bang situation”. He added: “The three time outs were obviously of great value there.”
About 15 minutes after Sunday’s game, Giants coach Joe Judge said he would go to his office and prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that the Giants would have played in the first round of the playoffs had the Eagles won on Sunday night. Instead, that work will no longer be necessary, but the judge insisted that his assessment of the Giants season would never aim to see if the Giants made it into the postseason.
“Our season has shown we have had a lot of growth,” said Judge, the Giants’ rookie head coach. “I learned more about our team when we were 0-5 and 1-7. We showed a lot of character in those moments. “
The judge added, “I told the boys how proud I am of them today. We’ve had a good year – we’ve improved every game. “
The judge also said he wasn’t surprised by the tense final moments of the Sunday game.
“I knew it would go on the wire, like all of our division games,” said Judge.
The game didn’t start out as if it would be hotly contested until the end. The giants dominated early on, defensively and, most surprisingly, on the offensive.
Though the Giants only scored 26 points in their last three games, they scored a touchdown on their opening run when wide receiver Sterling Shepard darted backward 23 yards around the right end, although Gano missed the attempt with an extra point after the result. The Cowboys cut the Giants lead in half with a 38-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein, but Shepard starred in yet another Giants touchdown ride that included a 10-yard touchdown pass from Giants quarterback late in the second quarter Daniel Jones scored.
Dallas stayed in the game with two more field goals from Zuerlein in the first half, but the Giants kept attacking, building a 20-6 lead on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Jones, who made 17 of 25 passes for 229 yards graduated from Pettis.
At halftime, the Cowboys were back in the game, 11 points behind, when Evan Engram, recently selected for the Pro Bowl, failed to score an accurate Jones pass in the middle early in the third quarter. Engram’s miss was more than a drop as it deflected the football backwards where it was intercepted by Dallas safety Donovan Wilson. Ten games into the interception, Dallas shot Ezekiel Elliott into the end zone, scoring a 1-yard touchdown that reduced the Giants’ lead to 20-16.