12:17 pm Oct. 15, 2012
Hixon is a veteran who’s been diminished by consecutive season-ending ACL injuries, and he has no obvious calling card. He’s just a solid player who knows where to go and what to do. Fans appreciate the idea of these competent steady eddies, but not enough that they don’t want Barden and Randle to surpass Hixon on the depth chart as soon as possible.
So it’s worthwhile to take a moment to appreciate Hixon. Because it’s possible that yesterday’s convincing win wouldn’t have happened without him.
Consider the Giants’ predicament before Hixon’s first catch, a falling, twisting haul-in of a 39-yard Eli Manning bomb early in the second quarter: Trailing 3-0 already, the Giants faced a third and six, and were on the verge of stalling again, with just one first down after three drives. They would have given the ball back to the 49ers, who were having no trouble moving the ball to that point.
The Giants looked, in other words, like they were in serious danger of falling further behind a team built to protect leads.
So Hixon’s catch was huge, and the numbers confirm it. According to the indispensable Win Probability Graphs on AdvancedNFLStats.com, Hixon’s catch took the Giants from a win probability percentage of 42 to 52.
Two plays later, on a 3rd and 8, another clutch catch by Hixon, this one a foot-dragging job on the sideline, on which he needed to catch the ball perfectly cleanly in order for the timing of his footwork to work. The 16-yard catch gave the Giants’ a first down at the 49er six-yard line, and took the Giants win probability from 51 percent (it had been diminished by the third and long) to 58.
Victor Cruz scored a touchdown on the next play and did a defiant salsa dance with his rear end shaking in the direction of Carlos Rogers, the salsa burglar beaten by Cruz on the play. After a start to the game that was more inauspicious than most people probably remember, the Giants had taken the lead, and they wouldn’t look back.
Hixon wasn’t done. With the Giants up 10-3 and having regained possession with enough time to tack more points on before halftime, it was Hixon again, this time for a nine-yard catch in which he came back for the ball after Manning had been flushed out of the pocket, a savvy veteran move. The play after the next, Hixon ran an out pattern and made a diving snare just before the ball hit the turf, deftly cradling his hand underneath the point.
The catch brought the Giants to the 30-yard-line, giving them a shot at a makeable field goal, thus increased their win probability from 80 percent to 83. (The catch also compelled 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to challenge the play by throwing his challenge flag directly at a referee, according to New York Times beat writer Sam Borden. It was the first signature move for the 49ers’ “fiery” coach. The second was, evidently, stonewalling Fox’s Pam Oliver for the customary halftime interview, after which Oliver proclaimed on-air that she had been “Harbaughed.”)
The Giants’ field goal attempt several plays later wound up being blocked, and Hixon didn’t have another catch on the day. But he still led all Giants’ receivers with 78 yards along with the Win Probability Added metric on Advanced NFL Stats.
Not bad for an afterthought, a piece of furniture in the Giants organization.
After the game, Tom Coughlin said of Hixon: “He comes through for us in clutch situations. Eli’s very confident of where he’s gonna be.”
Hixon is easy to overlook. But it’s nice for the Giants to know he'll be there when they need him.
More by this author:
- Gary Cohen, the anti-Michael Kay, also broadcasts during his time off
- Blue blood: The harsh logic behind the cutting of Bradshaw, Canty and Boley