MINNEAPOLIS – The Giants' first postseason victory in 11 years featured many hallmarks of the regular-season success that enabled them to play in the game.
Saquon Barkley ran for two touchdowns. The unheralded wide receivers came through again. The defense made a series of critical stops, despite recording neither a sack nor a turnover. Brian Daboll coached with his customary fearlessness, resulting in two fourth-down conversions.
But most of all there was Daniel Jones playing another splendid game. In his postseason debut, Jones threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He smashed the Giants' postseason record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 78. Most importantly, he was the best and most important player in the Giants' 31-24 victory against the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Wild Card Game in U.S. Bank Stadium. The triumph avenged a last-second, 27-24 loss in the same venue on Dec. 24.
In their first playoff appearance since 2016, the Giants earned their first postseason win since beating New England in Super Bowl XLVI in February of 2011.
And while the talk in the locker room was typically about the contributions from multiple players and the team effort that fueled the victory, everyone wanted to make sure Jones received the proper credit.
"He's been doing it all year," Barkley said. "He's really a special player. What a way to start it off. I'm happy for him and proud of him and we're going to need him and keep leaning on him."
"He played amazing," said wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who led the Giants with eight receptions and caught Jones' first touchdown pass. "There were a lot of times where the wideouts, we didn't really do our job or get open, he would make something happen with his legs. That duality, I think, just scares defenses around the league. He did a great job of just taking over. He didn't flinch at all, whether it was a bad drive, a good drive, adversity hit him. He just kept going. It's great to see that from your quarterback."
View photos from the Giants' 31-24 Wild Card victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
The defensive players also tipped their helmets to Jones.
"How about our quarterback – the New York Giants' quarterback," rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux said. "He played great. He led the team, and he never flinched."
Daboll said three times that Jones "played good." Reporters thought that review was underwhelming and goaded him for more.
"I've said it all year, he's been good for us," Daboll said. "Continues to be good for us. He played a good game. I think there were a lot of other people that played good games to help him play a good game and he'll be the first to admit it. But as a leader on our football team, I'm proud of him."
Jones had the fifth 300-yard passing game in Giants postseason history and joined Kerry Collins and Eli Manning as the only quarterbacks to reach that milestone. His rushing total was 19 more than the previous recordholder, Ed Danowski, who ran for 59 yards vs. Chicago on Dec. 9, 1934. Jones either ran or passed for eight of the Giants' 10 longest plays.
At his postgame news conference, the modest Jones was as emotional as someone who had just washed his car.
"I think it's a big win for us," he said. "Obviously, a big playoff game. I thought we played well in all three phases and did enough to win the game. We'll enjoy it tonight, but we have a lot of work to do moving forward."
Did he have fun?
"I think we have a lot of fun," he said. "We love the opportunity to compete and play in big games, and I think we all had a lot of fun."
Except for a span of a bit more than three minutes in the first quarter, the Giants never trailed.
Minnesota took a 7-0 lead on the game's first series when Kirk Cousins scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak.
The Giants needed only five plays to tie the game. After they were backed up to their 15-yard line by a holding penalty, Jones, in order, threw to Richie James for 13 yards, ran for seven, connected with Darius Slayton for 22 yards and then scrambled for 15 more. On the fifth play, he handed the ball to Barkley, who zipped through the left side for a 28-yard touchdown.
After the Vikings went three-and-out, the Giants went up 14-7 in four plays – Slayton's 47-yard catch-and-run, a four-yard pass to Lawrence Cager, Barkley's 16-yard run and Jones' 14-yard pass down the middle to Hodgins, who beat future Hall of Fame cornerback Patrick Peterson.
"I think that was important for us, just coming out and executing," Jones said of the Giants' rapid response. "Regardless of the situation, that's our goal on offense. We're always trying to score touchdowns. I think that was important to get off to a fast start."
They didn't score a touchdown in the second quarter, but still controlled most of the action, thanks to an 86-yard drive that took 10:52 off the clock and included 20 plays, the last Graham Gano's 25-yard field goal.
Cousins' nine-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn cut the Giants' halftime lead to 17-14.
It didn't stay like that for long. The Giants took the second-half kickoff and marched 75 yards in just six plays, including passes of 24 yards to Barkley, 32 yards to Hodgins and a nine-yard touchdown to rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger, which pushed the advantage back to 10 points.
But, um, it didn't stay like that for long. Minnesota emulated its opponent by driving 75 yards – albeit in eight plays - and throwing a touchdown pass to a tight end, a three-yarder to Irv Smith, Jr. The answering score moved the Vikings back to within three at 24-21.
Early in the fourth quarter, Greg Joseph – whose final-play, 61-yard field goal broke the Giants' hearts in the regular-season meting – tied the game with a 38-yard field goal.
On the Giants' ensuing possession, they advanced from their own 25 to the Minnesota seven, where they faced a fourth-and-one. Daboll eschewed a chip-shot field goal and a three-point lead and went for the first down, which Jones picked up on a quarterback sneak. After Vikings were penalized for defensive holding, Barkley trucked former Giant defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and scored the deciding touchdown from two yards out.
"That was big time," Jones said. "That was an impressive run from him. It was one of those where he wasn't going to be denied. You could sense that. You could see that almost in the huddle before the ball was snapped. He had an expectation. He did a great job there. The offensive line did a great job."
The Vikings lost a yard before punting on their next possession and the Giants took the ball at their own 24 with 6:12 left and a chance to run out the clock. After Barkley was stopped for no gain at the 45, the Giants faced a fourth and one and called timeout with 3:28 left. The safe play would have been to punt the ball. But Daboll stayed on the attack and Jones picked up the first down with another sneak.
Did Daboll consider kicking on either fourth down?
"No, we were going after it," he said. "We were going to try to win the game. We had confidence in Daniel moving the pile. And I could live with the consequences."
So could the players, who were all in on the coach's gutsy calls.
"I had a pretty good idea (he would go for it)," Jones said. "You want to be in those situations, and you want to have the opportunity to convert."
"We're not shocked about that," Barkley said. "We know the type of coach he is; we rally off that and feed off that. We know he's got the trust and confidence in us, and we executed."
They did so well that they're one of the last eight teams standing. Now, they'll play in Philadelphia 13 days after their last game there.
"We have a lot of work to do," Daboll said. "Go back, look at his tape, correct what we need to correct. We've got a lot of work to do, but it's enjoyable work, to be able to do work at this time of year."