In most football game there are several big plays that you can easily identify as game changers or game deciders. Sunday's game against the Patriots was no different - aside from the scoring plays themselves, you can point to the seam route to Ballard on 3rd and 10 in the final drive, the INT off of Eli in the end zone, the fumble by Ross on special teams, and a few others. But there are often a few quiet, unnoticed plays that set up the big plays, or perhaps better said, create the stage and circumstance to make the big plays important. For lack of a better term, I'll call them the hidden plays in the game and I'll highlight a few from Sunday's game against the Patriots.
1. Delay of game by Patriots. Patriots had 2nd and 10 on their own 16 early in the 3rd quarter with Giants ahead 3-0. Patriots got called for a delay of game which made it 2nd and 15. On 2nd down, Patriots ran a draw play for 5 yards bringing up a 3rd and 10. There's no guarantee what would have happened on 2nd and 10 without that penalty, but the 5 yard penalty kept the 3rd down a 3rd and long play. That meant that Brady had to hold the ball longer and let his WRs get down field, instead of hitting a short 3rd and 5, where he could have thrown something quick to Welker. Brady held the ball and Boley came on a blitz around his blind side, forced the fumble which led to Giants first TD.
2a. Tackle by Patriots DB Adams at goal line on Ramses Barden. It is always good to stop the offense from scoring, so this play seems kind of silly to include, but here goes. Giants had a 1st and 10 on the Patriots 17 a few plays after the Grant INT of Brady. Eli threw a perfect out pattern to Barden, who made a good move to the sideline, turned up field, stretched and nearly got the ball into the end zone. Adams, the DB who was beaten on the play, hung in and made a TD saving tackle at the 2. With 1st and goal at the 2, the offense's chances to score are very high, so it didn't seem like much at the time. But every time the offense has to run another play, there's a chance they'll make a mistake. Eli threw the INT a few plays later.
2b. Clayton did not keep his feet in bounds at back of end zone. On that same drive, in fact, on the very next play, Eli threw a perfect pass to Clayton, on a really good play call by Gilbride. Clayton caught it but failed to keep his feet in bounds and the TD was taken away, meaning Giants had to run some more plays to score. Interestingly, Clayton is a good blocker and Giants usually run out of formations when Clayton comes on the field as WR, so it really deceived the Patriots and Clayton was wide open. Not keeping his feet in bounds meant that Giants had to run another play which also helped set up the INT.
2c. Delay of game penalty at the goal line on next play. This is obvious: 2nd and 7 affects the play calls and is much harder to make than 2nd and 2. When Patriots blitzed, Eli had to hold the ball longer to let Manningham get open and that contributed to setting the stage for the INT, a play that didn't need to happen if any of these three hidden plays had gone the Giants way.
3. Eli incomplete pass at the goal line. You might not have realized this at the time, and might not even remember the play, but it was a critical play in the game. Giants just got the PI on Victor Cruz which placed the ball at the 1 with 30 seconds left in the game. The first down call was a play fake to Jacobs and a pass, probably intended for Manningham who was running in the back of the end zone. Patriots called an all out blitz, with nobody on the Giants picking up the LB who made penetration right up the middle. Eli turned around after completing the play fake and saw the LB bearing down on him. A sack there really messes up the Giants chances. They would then have had to call their last timeout immediately and would have therefore had to take 2 shots at the end zone from the 10 - not a sure thing. Instead of allowing the sack, Eli sprinted to his left, got away from the LB and threw across his body to Ballard who nearly caught what was a catchable ball. Incomplete pass - yes. But - no sack, no INT, still had a timeout left. After a run to Jacobs, Giants still had a timeout to use and were on the 1/2 yard line. With no timeouts left a pass was the best call, but because they were so close, the running play was at least theoretically possible. Therefore, the Patriots LB bit on the play fake on 3rd down which gave Ballard a chance to get open. Even Coughlin said that Eli's evading the blitzer and throwing an incomplete pass on 1st down was the biggest play of the game.