With the new year came new beginnings, and for the first time in six years, the New York Giants have clinched a spot in the postseason.
The Giants took on the Indianapolis Colts on New Year's Day, needing just one win in their final two games to clinch their first trip to the playoffs since 2016. Brian Daboll's squad left nothing to chance on Sunday, soundly defeating the AFC foes by a score of 38-10.
"I thought they played a good, complementary game," Daboll said after the game. "I think all the units played well. I think the coaches had them ready to play. Most importantly, they were ready to play from start to finish. And when you're playing in higher-stakes games, as you guys reminded me all week, I thought they did a good job of just focusing on the task at hand and doing the things we needed to do to get a win. So, it's good to get a win. I don't have any injury stuff. Good to get a win."
The win came exactly 11 years to the day from the last time the franchise sealed their spot in the postseason in front of the home crowd. On January 1, 2012, the Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium to win the NFC East title.
"I'm really appreciative and grateful for the support of the fans," Daniel Jones said after the game. "It's a team thing and this was a complete team win today. All three phases played really well. On offense, we executed, did our jobs. Like I said, the guys up front played really well. Just proud of this team, proud of this team to come out in a game like this – an opportunity to clinch the playoffs. We put together a good game, played really well. Just proud to be part of it."
Here are five things we learned in the New Year's Day win.
1. Playoffs, here we come
Brian Daboll helped lead the team to the playoffs in his first year as head coach. Of the 10 first-year head coaches across the league, Daboll, Kevin O'Connell (Vikings) and Todd Bowles (Buccaneers) are the only three that have already secured a playoff berth for their team. After refusing to touch on the subject leading up to Sunday, Daboll finally spoke about the postseason after the win over Indy.
"Obviously, this is a big win because we clinched a playoff spot," the head coach said. "But that's what I like most about coaching is the relationships. But seeing that two to three minutes in the locker room when it's just the team of all the hard work they've put into it to try to get a result that you hope for. And I'm very thankful and appreciative for all the players, the staff, the coaches. But to see smiles on the faces, that's the best time of the week for me is the two to three minutes after a game when you watch these people put so much into it to try to get a result you want. And it's hard every week to do. So, enjoy it. And then let's get back. I wanted to come back on Tuesday, but we'll come back on Wednesday."
While the Giants are now locked into the No. 6 seed in the NFC, their first-round opponent is still unclear. They will either take on the Minnesota Vikings or the San Francisco 49ers on Wild Card Weekend, with the two teams still battling for the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the conference (the Giants will play on the road at No. 3). Regardless of their opponent, the Giants did not shy away from showing their excitement about securing a spot in the postseason.
"That was a special moment," Jones said about the feeling on the sideline after the win. "A lot of guys who put in a lot of work. We've been through, certainly, some tougher times and it feels good to be on this side of it, for sure. Special moment with those guys. Really proud of this team, proud of what we did today. Grateful to be a part of it."
2. DJ does it all
A matchup against one of the league's better pass defenses did not intimidate Daniel Jones, as the fourth-year quarterback had one of his most efficient outings of the season against the Colts. The fourth-year quarterback completed 79.2 percent of his passes (19 of 24) for 177 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. His 125.2 passer rating was his second-highest of the season.
"It's just exciting," Jones said. "I think, like I said, we've been through some tough times and to be on this side of it is a lot of fun. A lot of hard work has gone into it from a lot of different people and like I said, I'm grateful for my teammates, grateful for this organization and looking forward to a lot of work ahead."
In addition to his productive day throwing the ball, Jones also put together the best rushing performance of his career. The 25-year-old signal-caller carried the ball 11 times and gained an impressive 91 yards, good for an average of 8.3 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. He was the game's leading rusher and also played a part in all four offensive scores by the Giants on Sunday.
"I think I've learned in those situations and continue to learn, continue to study where I can get down, where I can protect myself better in some of those situations," the QB said about his rushing. "If there's ever a chance to score or get in the end zone, obviously you're going to try to do that. I've learned a lot. Today, we were running the ball well early on and that opened up some things off of it. The guys up front did a great job all day controlling the line of scrimmage and opening up some holes for Saquon (Barkley) and for me."
Jones left the field to a standing ovation late in the fourth quarter as backup Tyrod Taylor took over under center to close out the game.
"I'm really appreciative, grateful," Jones said about the ovation he received from the crowd. "Our fans have been tremendous all year. They supported us today, they came out and brought a lot of energy. The whole game, we felt it and fed off it the whole game. Grateful, really appreciative of their support for me personally and for our team."
3. Defense shines
With a spot in the postseason on the line, the defense stepped up big time on New Year's Day. Wink Martindale's unit held the Colts to just 252 total yards of offense, the fewest yardage total they've allowed all season. Nick Foles and Sam Ehlinger combined to throw for just 124 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but the turnover was a big one.
Safety Landon Collins is the only member of the active roster that was a part of the last Giants playoff team back in 2016. On Sunday, the veteran did everything he could to get the franchise back into the postseason. Collins registered his first interception of the season, which he returned 52 yards for a touchdown. He added four total tackles (one solo).
"Just a blessing just to be back in the locker room with these guys, having fun and playing ball," said Collins. "That's the biggest thing. Making (sure) we have the opportunity and now we have the opportunity to continue to clinch the playoffs, we clinched the playoffs and now do our thing."
The defense picked up two sacks on New Year's Day, both from likely sources. Dexter Lawrence added to his career-best season with yet another sack and three quarterback hits, bringing the first-time Pro Bowler's season totals to 7.5 and 28, respectively. The second sack came from Kayvon Thibodeaux, who now has three sacks over the last five games. The rookie outside linebacker recorded a tackle for loss on the first play of the game and never looked back. He also almost picked off a pass that almost certainly would have resulted in a pick-six, but he was unable to hold onto the football.
View photos from the Giants' Week 17 game against the Indianapolis Colts.
4. Playmakers rise to the occasion
With Jones leading the way on offense, the Giants did not need to lean on Saquon Barkley as heavily as they have in previous games this season. But when the fifth-year back did touch the ball, he made the most of his opportunities. Barkley carried the ball 12 times for 58 yards for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. This brought his season total to 1,312 rushing yards, a new career-high for the Pro Bowl running back.
Once again, the offense got strong performances from Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins. James led the way with a game-high seven receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. This marked his fourth touchdown in his last seven games and increased his reception total to 57 on the season. This is tied with Barkley for the most on the team. Meanwhile, Hodgins reeled in four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. The midseason addition from Buffalo has now scored a touchdown in four of the last five games. He and James are tied with a team-high four touchdown receptions on the year.
"He deserves a lot of credit," Jones said about James. "He's played great all year. Early on and really, I think he's been consistent throughout the whole year. Stepped up and made a ton of plays for us. He's a really good football player, knows where to be, knows how to get open, knows feel for spaces and uncovering in zones and can beat man-to-man coverage. He's played great for us. His work ethic, his demeanor every day – if you'd see that, you wouldn't be surprised by it. He's a really good football player."
5. McKinney picks up where he left off; Leo leaves with burner
The Giants received a big boost in the secondary on Sunday as Xavier McKinney made his return to the field. The third-year safety had been on the reserve/non-football injury list since the team got back from the bye week in early November after he fractured fingers on his left hand in a "Can-Am" accident in Mexico. The Giants wasted no time with the talented safety, lining him up opposite Julian Love in the starting lineup.
McKinney picked up right where he left off prior to the injury. In his first game back in over two months, he finished second on the team with seven total tackles (four solo) and a pass breakup. He wore a split on his hand to protect his injured fingers.
"I thought he was ready to go," Daboll said about the young safety. "Rome (Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson) came up to me, I think it was the second quarter. We had a plan for how many reps we were going to play him. And he was communicating with Rome (that) he feels good. And Jerome said he was playing good, so we ended up going with him until we took him out."
The Giants had only one in-game injury on Sunday as defensive lineman Leonard Williams departed with a burner. He was listed as questionable to return and finished with two total tackles.