Score Leaders vs. Giants, Takeaway: Saquon Barkley helps New York approach the postseason with a win on the road

The Giants are one step away from punching their ticket to the postseason. New York moved to 8-5-1 on the season after ousting leaders Washington on the road 20-12 in a primetime NFC East showdown.

Washington got on the board first in the NFC East head-to-head game, but a sack by rookie passer Kayvon Thibodeau who recovered a touchdown gave New York the lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter and they held it the rest of the way.

Trailing 17-12 midway through the fourth quarter, Washington looked like they were about to take their shot to retain the lead, especially after Taylor Hynecke connected with Jahan Dotson for a 61-yard catch that put them deep in New York territory. However, Heinicke fumbled a few plays later and had the ball recovered by New York. Then Saquon Barkley pushed the offense down the field and chewed over four minutes on the clock to kick a field goal at the end to go up by eight.

Not only did this turnover eliminate Washington’s golden-goal scoring opportunity, but it gave the Giants the ability to shore up their lead with a touchdown as well as an extra point, which took effect in the final minute as Washington threatened to score again when they got the ball. Giants’ 1-yard line before finally out.

Daniel Jones finished with 160 yards in the air on 21 of 32 passing. Meanwhile, Barkley rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Heinicke was 17 of 29 passing for 249 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed three times for 33 yards.

While neither team made it out of the current NFC final picture, this win bumped New York into the No. 6 seed in the conference as the leaders fell back to the No. 7 seed at 7-6-1. As these two clubs were tied again in Week 13, it’s worth noting that the Giants also won a head-to-head tiebreaker with this win. The Dallas Cowboys also clinched a playoff game on the score.

For a more in-depth breakdown of how this game will evolve, check out our takeaways below.

Why did the giants win?

The Giants didn’t move the ball particularly well. While they had a 97-yard touchdown drive to their credit, they only averaged 5 yards per game and converted just two of their 10 first down opportunities on the night. What really hung their hats in this match was the defence, specifically the pressure they were able to put on Taylor Heinicke.

Rookie rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux made his presence felt early and often as he was a mainstay in the Washington backfield out of the gate. His crowning moment came in the first half when he sprinted from the rim on play two and 18 from the Washington 10-yard line, Heineke recovered the ball, and put it into the end zone for a touchdown.

On the night, Thibodeaux has 12 total tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and that touchdown. He is the only rookie since at least 2000 with 10 tackles, a sack, and a defensive touchdown in a game. Having said that, the senior wasn’t the only pressure on the leaders offense as the club finished with three sacks and eight quarterback hits in the win. They also forced two fumbles that helped swing the game in their favour. Dexter Lawrence forced another fumble late in the fourth quarter, and Landon Collins also emerged with a handful of key tackles at the line of scrimmage.

Of course, attacking has its moments, especially on the ground. As a team, they rushed for 128 yards on 30 carries, which included some runs by Saquon Barkley in the fourth quarter after Lawrence’s forced fumble.

Why did the leaders lose?

Washington had trouble protecting Taylor Heinecke, especially early in the game, but they were able to move the ball at a decent rate (6.7 yards per game) all night. Where they struggled strongly was the turnaround in third down. On the night, they converted just one of their 10 first downs, and that came at the 14:17 mark of the fourth quarter. This resulted in them scoring touchdowns on only one of their three flights in the red at night.

Of course, Henneck’s fumble was also a key part of Washington finding itself on the losing end of this game. Both turnovers resulted in a total of 10 points put on the board for New York, which proved to be the difference in this divisional game.

Even in the loss, it must be pointed out that there appears to have been a failed call by the official on the final offensive play. On a fourth-and-6 play from the New York 6-yard line, Heinicke threw a pass to wide receiver Curtis Samuel, which was covered by Darnay Holmes. Despite having his arms wrapped around Samuel’s chest, the officials did not make him aware of his defensive pass interference and Washington turned the ball over on downs.

While Washington had plenty of chances to win this game up to this point, the umpires seem to miss one here.

turning point

The Chiefs looked like they were about to turn the game on its head midway through the fourth quarter. Rookie Taylor Hynecke hit wide receiver Jahan Dotson on a 61-yard pass that turned the field and Brian Robinson followed that up with a 19-yard run on the next play that put Washington at New York’s 11-yard line. This was the main place for the Leaders, only five points ahead at the time, either within three inches with a final field goal or regaining the lead via a touchdown.

However, none of those results ultimately came to fruition after Heinicke was stripped on a 3rd-and-4 sack.

This was a one-man play by the Giants on two different fronts. As the officials disqualified Heinicke, first-year head coach Brian Daboll was tasked with throwing a challenge red flag if he wanted them to catch a glimpse of him. Thanks to being an apparent fumble recovery by Dexter Lawrence, not only could the officials rule that Henicke had fumbled, but that New York would gain possession.

Then the Giants put the ball into Saquon Barkley’s hands and his back took off several pieces on the ground. On three straight plays, Barkley ran 12 yards, 15 yards and then 14 yards to not only move into Washington territory but bleed the time off the clock.

New York was then in range as Graham Gano nailed a 50-yard field goal to push the lead to eight after the two-minute warning.

Play the game

It wasn’t the most prolific attacking night for both teams, but Saquon Barkley shone when it mattered most. While his 48-yard dash on that pivotal field goal in the fourth quarter after a Heinicke fumble was the clutch you can get, the star showed us some great footwork earlier in the game.

On a second-and-six play midway through the second quarter, Daniel Jones hit Barkley with a pass into the flat on the left side of the field. He took the catch and then sized up fullback John Bostic and completely broke both of his ankles with an impressive fumbling move. Despite getting a hold of Barkley, the quick feet of the running back caused Bostic to collapse in on himself as he jogged downhill.

New York would go on to score on that drive with Barkley taking a direct snap on the Washington 3-yard line to make the lead 14-3.

What then

From here, the Giants will head to Minnesota for a Christmas Eve game with the Vikings. As for the Leaders, they’ll also be on the road next Saturday as they visit the Bay Area for a Week 16 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

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