'WE BELIEVE IN OUR PROCESS'
It would be difficult to classify Brian Daboll's first season as head coach as anything short of a major success. Daboll led the Giants to nine wins and a trip to the postseason just one year after the team went 4-13. They picked up several big wins along the way, from the season-opening win in Nashville to the playoff-clinching victory over the Colts on New Year's Day. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the team throughout the season, Daboll's approach has remained the same week in and week out. Don't expect that to change now that they've reached the postseason.
"We really believe in our process and being consistent – whether that's a preseason game, a game you have to win to get into the playoffs, a division game," Daboll told the media Monday. "I think that throughout the season, you go through a lot of different things. To (a previous) question, you go through some failures. You go through some successes. You go through some tough games on the road when everybody's against you. You go through some big games, whether that's a night game on a Sunday night against a division opponent or a Thanksgiving (game).
"You've went through these experiences, and each week you learn. You might not learn for that necessary next game, but I think those collective experiences, you lean on those. But in terms of our preparation for our players, for our coaches, it'll be – a boring word – but it'll be consistent. We believe in what we do. We believe in how we do it, and then we have to go out there and execute and call a good game and make good decisions. Again, what wins in Week 1 wins in the playoffs. And that's the truth."
In their opening-round matchup, the Giants get a rematch against the Vikings. The two teams met on Christmas Eve and put together one of the season's more exciting outings. It was a back-and-forth affair that featured the Giants overcoming a 10-point deficit to take the lead before the Vikings eventually won on the foot of kicker Greg Joseph, who connected on a career-long 61-yard field goal as time expired.
"Next team on the list," Daboll said about facing the Vikings. "When you get to this time of year, you don't really focus on brackets. You knew going into the game yesterday it could be one of two teams. Both teams (San Francisco 49ers) are very good with very good records. One we have played and are familiar with. Much like I said earlier, kind of the Washington three-week kind of deal there where we played Washington then another team then Washington again. But it's a great environment up there. Really good team, good coaching staff, competitive, won a lot of football games. So, we've got a lot of work to do."
Sunday's game will be the 31st all-time meeting between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, with Minnesota holding an 18-12 lead in the series. It will be the fourth postseason game between the two franchises and the first one in over 20 years. The Vikings flew to East Rutherford during the 2000 playoffs, where the Giants put together their most dominant playoff performance in franchise history and won the game 41-0. The Giants outgained Minnesota 518-114 that day as the Big Blue defense intercepted Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper three times.
Questionable: CB Cam Dantzler (ankle/personal matter), S Harrison Smith (knee), RB Kene Nwangwu (illness)
FOCUS IS ON WINNING ONE GAME
With the NFL calendar now flipping to the postseason, it's easy to start thinking ahead - but not at 1925 Giants Drive. Head coach Brian Daboll has reiterated since the start of the season that the team would stay consistent and keep focused on the task at hand. This week, that means all attention is solely on the Minnesota Vikings, something his coordinators reiterated Thursday.
"When you've had such a drought that we've had around here, you definitely appreciate it," special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said about making the postseason. "But it's just 'win one game.' My primary focus is on (Vikings ST Coordinator) Matt Daniels and his group and just winning one game. That's all we're focused on right now. And it's nice to see all the stuff around it, but our primary focus is just trying to go, as a unit, go win one game. Make a positive-impact play in the kicking game that can help us win one game."
With this being the franchise's first trip to the postseason since 2016, it will serve as the first playoff game for a lot of players throughout the roster. Sterling Shepard and Landon Collins are the only two players on the team that were a part of the last playoff squad. While today served as a "normal Thursday" inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, McGaughey did take a moment to reflect on many of the players taking part in their first NFL playoff game.
"I'm happy for them because not every player in this league gets a chance to experience playoff football," said the special teams coordinator. "There's a lot of guys that will play 10, 15 years and never go to the playoffs. So, some of these young guys, their first year in the league, they're going into a playoff situation. It's cool for them because they get a chance to experience it. It's, again, setting them up moving forward, giving them something to go after moving forward – a goal to go after just to know what the feeling is to play in a playoff game and play meaningful football in January."
DJ'S CAREER YEAR
In his first season under Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, Daniel Jones put together easily his most efficient season in the NFL. Jones started the first 16 games of the season before sitting the season finale along with the rest of the starters. It was the first time in his four NFL seasons that he did not miss a game due to injury. As the old football saying goes, "The best ability is availability."
Not only did Jones do a great job of being able to stay on the field, but he also put up some of the best numbers of his young career. The 25-year-old set new career-highs with 3,205 passing yards and a 92.5 passer rating to go with 15 touchdowns, five interceptions and five game-winning drives. In addition to his personal marks, Jones also set franchise QB records in numerous categories, including completion percentage (67.2 percent), interception percentage (1.06, which was No. 1 in the NFL), rushing yards (708) and rushing touchdowns (seven).
Jones had one of his best performances of the season in Minnesota on Christmas Eve. He threw for 334 yards, seven shy of his season's best, with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 92.8. He also added four rush attempts for 34 yards, good for an average of 8.5 yards per carry. The Vikings' pass defense finished 31st on the season after allowing 265.6 passing yards per game. However, they averaged just 146.5 passing yards per game allowed in their final two contests.
"Everyone understands where we are now," Jones said this week. "We're in the playoffs. We're past the regular season. The games mean more from the sense that you lose, you go home. So, people understand that. They understand what's at stake. But the only way we're going to play as well as we want to play is to prepare how we have all year, to trust our process and stick to that. So, that's largely been the conversation amongst the guys."
CAN SAQUON KEEP IT ROLLING?
Saquon Barkley joined Jones in putting up career numbers in 2022. The star running back registered a personal-best 1,312 yards on the ground this season, which ranked fourth in the NFL, and added 338 receiving yards on 57 receptions. His 1,650 total yards from scrimmage was the second-highest of his career and ranked seventh in the league. He was one of three players this season to lead his team in both rushing and receptions, joining Chargers RB Austin Ekeler and Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson.
Barkley last appeared on New Year's Day, where his 58 rushing yards increased his career total to 4,249. This elevated him past Ahmad Bradshaw (4,232) into sixth place on the Giants' all-time rushing list. His performance this season earned him his second selection to the Pro Bowl and his first since his breakout rookie campaign in 2018.
Similar to Jones, Barkley had one of his most productive outings of the season against the Vikings. The 25-year-old back averaged 6.0 yards per carry on 14 attempts. He finished with 84 yards on the ground, including his clutch 27-yard touchdown run on a 4th-and-2 late in the fourth quarter which helped the Giants tie the game. Barkley also had his best day as a receiver in Minnesota, catching a season-high eight passes for 49 yards. The Vikings' run defense ranked 20th in the league this season with their 123.1 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry allowed. They also surrendered 18 rushing touchdowns, which tied the Green Bay Packers for 23rd in the NFL.
"I'm excited," Barkley said about his first appearance in the postseason. "Obviously, I know it's a playoff game. More attention, more eyes, but to me, I won't be nervous. Will I be hype? Yeah, I get hyped for every single game. Nerves, I wouldn't say that. For me, it's just another football game. I talked to (Michael) Strahan when he was here not too long ago and I asked him, 'What's really the difference between playoff football?" He said obviously the intensity rises and all that, but the best advice he gave me was don't make the game bigger than it needs to be. I'm keeping that advice and sticking with that advice."
View photos from practice as the Giants get ready for their Wild Card matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
'WE WANT TO KEEP RAISING THE BAR'
Since 2007, the Giants have made the playoffs just four times, with two of them resulting in a Lombardi Trophy. The franchise has four Super Bowl titles since the NFL-AFL merger, and all four teams have a major component in common – they all had dominant defenses who got after the quarterback. This history does not go unnoticed by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who uses the historic Big Blue defenses as inspiration for this year's unit.
"We know where the standard is, and we want to keep raising the bar," Martindale said. "That's why I keep referring to the fans, I think they like seeing it. They like seeing an attacking style defense and ones that can hit the quarterback, We've had 19 different guys this year on the roster that's got a sack. That's crazy. It's also once again a credit to the players and their coaches."
Martindale has spoken in recent weeks about how they were able to build a "playoff defense". They've done this by staying consistent all season, along with each member of the unit taking a selfless, team-first approach every week. But when talking to the media Thursday, Martindale shared that it was the first meeting against the Vikings that truly showed him what his unit was capable of.
"I think that was the beginning of, I told the coaches and I told Dex (Lawrence), you can ask Dex and Leo (Williams), I said we've got a playoff defense here, guys," said the defensive coordinator. "Just keep playing it one play at a time and that's when it was 24-(16). That's when we were down, that's before the offense scored. Then I went on the back of the plane, and I told them, I said, "we've got a playoff defense, guys. We got beat by a buzzer beater at half-court". That's what it was. The biggest thing in this league is you never let one game beat you twice. So, you stay consistent."
RECEIVERS 'PUT THE WORK IN'
A lot has been made this season about the Giants' wide receiver corps. The three leading receivers were either buried on the depth chart or not even on the team at the start of the season. Darius Slayton (724 yards), Richie James (569) and Isaiah Hodgins (351) have all played significant roles in the team's success, especially over the last month of the regular season. While they might be gaining recognition from the media only in recent weeks, the entire WR room has been performing whenever they've gotten a chance since early in the year.
"First off, those guys – they put a lot of time in studying and prepping themselves, getting on the same page with the quarterback room," offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said. "I think (wide receivers) coach (Mike) Groh has done a great job of getting those guys together as well, coaching the fundamentals and the techniques that we stress…
"When you're playing football, you want to play with emotion, and you want to play with a certain attitude. I think those guys bring it, they bring it to practice every day and they've been bringing it all season long."
Hodgins didn't even join the team until November 2, when the Giants claimed him off waivers from the Buffalo Bills. The second-year receiver was a sixth-round pick of the Bills back in 2020 and spent two seasons with Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen in Buffalo. It only took Hodgins a few weeks to really get going in the Giants offense, as he caught a touchdown pass in four of the last five games heading into Week 18. The 24-year-old had the best game of his career against the Vikings in Week 16, catching eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown while going up against Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson.
"Isaiah is one of those guys that really is very dependable," said the offensive coordinator. "He's a tough kid. He can play multiple spots – inside and outside, so he has some flexibility within the offense. I think he's just like a lot of those guys in that room, he's gained the trust of Daniel and they have a really good thing going right now. We'll keep continuing to build that…
"I think Isaiah, he's a competitive football player. I don't think it was necessarily for that game specially. You see it on tape, he competes versus all corners and linebackers and safeties, in the run game. He's just a competitive player."
LIMITING JEFFERSON, VIKINGS OFFENSE
Martindale and the Giants defense went into the Christmas Eve matchup with the goal of limiting All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The 23-year-old receiver, whom Martindale has described as "a top two receiver in the league, and he isn't two," finished the game with 12 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown, including the 17-yard reception to set up Joseph's game-winning field goal.
Jefferson ended the year as the NFL's top receiver with a whopping 128 receptions for 1,809 yards. He had eight receiving touchdowns, with an additional score on the ground, on his way to earning his third Pro Bowl selection in as many seasons. He appears to be well on his way to his third All-Pro selection, as well. While Jefferson will remain the defense's focus on Sunday, Martindale maintained realistic expectations for containing the super talented receiver.
"Great players make great plays and 18 made a great play, he made two of them…" said the defensive coordinator. "Let's make no mistake about it, you can't take away 18. You try to limit him, but you can't take away from him. I think I said it the last time, he's one of the top two receivers and he's not number two in this league. It's going to be a great challenge."
Tight end T.J. Hockenson also did a lot of damage in the last meeting. Hockenson matched Jefferson with a whopping 16 targets, finishing with a team-high 13 receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second game this season that the tight end had over 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns, with the first one coming in Week 4 while still a member of the Detroit Lions. He recorded 86 receptions for 914 yards and six touchdowns across 17 games with the two teams and earned his second Pro Bowl selection in four seasons.
The Giants' defense received a significant boost on New Year's Day when Xavier McKinney returned to the secondary. McKinney had last appeared in Week 8 before a hand injury forced him to miss the next seven contests. In his first game back in over two months, the third-year safety picked up right where he left off prior to the injury. Against the Colts, McKinney finished second on the team with seven tackles (four solo) along with a pass breakup. McKinney has surrendered just seven receptions for 47 yards on 10 targets this year, good for an opposing passer rating against of 40.4, according to PFF.
"Hockenson is one of the best tight ends in the league and it showed last time we played him," McKinney told reporters this week. "He's really good. He's a really good tight end so we've just got to be prepared. I've got to be prepared to be able to have that matchup against him. I'm excited for it, it's going to be fun. So like I said, I'll be ready."
SCOUTING MINNESOTA DEFENSE
While a lot of the attention revolving the Vikings leans towards their offense, their defense cannot be overlooked. After a couple of average seasons, eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson has returned to his old self this year. Starting all 17 games, Peterson has registered five interceptions and 15 pass breakups, both of which are the most he's had in a season since 2012, just his second year in the NFL. The 32-year-old, who had one of those interceptions against the Giants on Christmas Eve, has a passer rating allowed of just 66.8.
"He's a talented player, probably going to be a Hall of Famer and All-Pro, perennial All-Pro, all over the field," Kafka said about the 12-year veteran. "He makes plays. He's a smart, instinctive player so we have to be smart with what we do and make sure our guys are detailed with what things we want to present that defense."
The Vikings defense also boasts one of the top edge rusher duos in the league in Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter. Smith picked up 10 sacks and 24 quarterback hits in 16 games this season, while Hunter registered 10.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits in 17 games. In the first meeting between the two teams, Hunter had two sacks and four quarterback hits while Smith added three quarterback hits. According to Kafka, keeping a close eye on both pass rushers will be one of the offense's top priorities this weekend.
"You got to know where he's at every single play," the offensive coordinator said about Smith. "Between him and Danielle Hunter. Those guys are talented edge rushers production-wise. They do a good job in the run game as well. You got to know where those guys are at on every single snap."