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Giants a playoff team because of six key plays

One of Brian Daboll’s favorite clichés after a win is, “We made a few more plays than they did.”

Math experts know that over the course of a nine-win season that adds up to a lot of decisive plays.

In honor of Daboll’s victory cigars, here is a six-pack of plays ranked in order that made the biggest difference in the Giants clinching a playoff spot before Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Eagles, with the win probability percentage for each as tracked by

Win probability before/after: 45.1/75.5

Daboll promised to use analytics and be aggressive, and his words were tested out of the gate when the Giants scored a touchdown to cut their deficit to 20-19 with 1:06 to go. Instead of attempting the PAT to be happy to erase a 13-point halftime deficit, the Giants called a shovel pass: Barkley made two tacklers miss and ran over another at the goal line for the winning points in an upset of last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

“I think that just sparked the season from there on,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said recently.

Saquon Barkley scoring on a two-point conversion in the Giants' Week 1 win over the Titans was one of the key plays that led to Big Blue making the playoffs.
Saquon Barkley scoring on a two-point conversion in the Giants’ Week 1 win over the Titans was one of the key plays that led to Big Blue making the playoffs.

2. Overtime punt vs. Commanders, Week 13

Win probability before/after: 27/24.3

Interesting choice? Daboll was widely criticized for managing too conservatively in the moment that he decided against attempting a fourth-and-3 from the Commanders’ 45-yard line with 1:42 remaining in overtime of a 20-20 tie.

Giants punter Jamie Gillan
Giants punter Jamie Gillan
Bill Kostroun

A punt was downed at the 10-yard line and Washington kicked it back after a three-and-out, setting up an unsatisfying tie after the Giants missed a 58-yard field goal into the wind as time expired.

“Would it have been different if it was fourth-and-1 versus fourth-and-3? Potentially,” Daboll said. “That was the best thing to do.”

If the Giants had failed attempting the fourth-and-3, the Commanders would’ve needed just two first downs to attempt a winning field goal.

With a loss instead of a tie, the Giants would not already have a playoff spot clinched. Sunday against the highly motivated Eagles would be a win-and-in scenario, with the possibility of falling out of the playoffs on tiebreakers with the Lions and Seahawks.

3. Fourth-down stop/missed penalty vs. Commanders, Week 15

Win probability before/after: 87/99.9

The final meaningful play of a game between teams with identical 7-5-1 records was a fourth-and-goal throw to Curtis Samuel that was knocked down by Darnay Holmes.

Replays showed that Holmes held Samuel before the throw and interfered with him while the ball was in the air. Referee John Hussey said, “To the officials, it didn’t rise to what they felt was a restriction; thus, they didn’t call it,” but the NFL admitted to a missed call the next day.

Darnay Holmes knocks the ball away from Curtis Samuel on a fourth-down play to seal the Giants' 20-12 Week 15 win over the Commanders.
Darnay Holmes knocks the ball away from Curtis Samuel on a fourth-down play to seal the Giants’ 20-12 Week 15 win over the Commanders.

“I’m a closer,” Holmes said. “I’m an eraser.”

The difference between a win and a loss was about 50 percent in terms of probability of reaching the playoffs, according to

4. Julian Love interception vs. Ravens, Week 6

Win probability before/after: 23.5/67.5

A third-and-6 play doomed from the start by a mishandled snap ended in disaster for Lamar Jackson when he threw off-balance across his body, instead of out of bounds to protect a 20-17 lead. Love corralled the Giants’ first interception of the season, after 23 empty quarters.

Love’s 27-yard return put the ball at the 13, Barkley scored the go-ahead touchdown and Kayvon Thibodeaux closed the Giants’ only win against an opponent definitely bound for the playoffs when his first career sack also included a forced fumble recovered by Leonard Williams.

“Those plays are really dangerous because you have the most dynamic quarterback back there,” Love said. “It was a bobbled snap, but as soon as he got it, you could see his eyes were looking downfield. That’s when he’s made his great plays in his career. I was kind of just baiting him.”

5. Gang tackle at 1-yard line vs. Jaguars, Week 7

Win probability before/after: 65.3/100

In a scene reminiscent of Rams-Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Giants held on for a 23-17 win that ended with the ball inside the 1-yard line. Another 2 feet gained and the Jaguars would have tied the score with a chance to win on an untimed PAT. Christian Kirk made a 16-yard catch but was spun in the air by Love, prevented from falling backwards by Fabian Moreau and tackled with help from Xavier McKinney and Landon Collins.

Christian Kirk is tackled just short of the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Giants' 23-17 win over the Jaguars.
Christian Kirk is tackled just short of the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Giants’ 23-17 win over the Jaguars.

“We talk about fourth-quarter finishes,” Love said. “We talk about bringing them out to the deep end, so we can drown people. That’s the team we are.”

6. Barkley’s 41-yard gain vs. Packers, Week 5

Win probability before/after: 49.5/68.2

After the Giants drove 90 yards for the tying touchdown without him, Barkley returned from a shoulder injury and made a 41-yard catch-and-run across midfield.

A jaw-dropping juke move helped energize the winning fourth-quarter drive that he capped with a 2-yard touchdown scamper to cement the Giants as the kings of comebacks (each of their first four wins) in a 27-22 victory against the Packers.

“Never have that mindset that the game is over,” Barkley said. “At any opportunity we know we can come back and win a game.”

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