EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants and their legion of fans are understandably elated the team has earned its first playoff berth in six years but to coach Brian Daboll, it is a beginning, not a milestone.
"Our goal – it'll never be just to make the playoffs," Daboll said. "That'll never be just our goal."
But this is a tremendous start for a first-year coach and a team that was universally dismissed as a playoff contender when the season began. They secured the sixth seed in the NFC with their most complete game of the season, a 38-10 dismantling of the 4-11-1 Indianapolis Colts in MetLife Stadium.
Daniel Jones threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores and Landon Collins keyed a superb defensive performance with a 52-yard interception return touchdown for the Giants, who improved to 9-6-1 – more than doubling their victory total from their 4-13 finish in 2021. They will end their regular season next week in Philadelphia.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock with the Giants guaranteed to play a postseason game for the first time since 2016, the MetLife faithful stood and roared. Daboll might have set a franchise record for postgame hugs, and he received a celebratory Gatorade shower from linebacker Jihad Ward and safety Julian Love– which necessitated a quick cleanup before his postgame news conference.
"It was sticky and wet," he said laughing. "It was good excitement, obviously. You work hard in this business to try to give yourself a chance to play extra innings or more games. So, we have done that. We put ourselves in a position to compete more than just one other game. So, excitement, sure. Definitely."
View photos from the Giants' Week 17 game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Asked what Daboll was like after the game, defensive lineman and captain Dexter Lawrence said, "Loud, dancing, laughing, so emotions. It's all of the signs of excitement. We worked hard, starting in the spring with these guys with the new coaching staff, and it's all playing out."
The Giants' locker room is always a cauldron of noise after a victory but was particularly loud Sunday. Players like Jones and Saquon Barkley endured much losing before qualifying for the postseason.
Two plays into the Giants' final offensive possession, Daboll removed Jones from the game so he could receive proper recognition from the delirious fans. When he reached the sideline, Jones congratulated every teammate, coach and support staffer he could get to.
"That was a special moment," he said. "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. … 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."
No player in uniform had waited longer to celebrate a playoff berth than Barkley, whose first four Giants seasons yielded only 19 victories. The high-water mark was six in 2020, but Barkley missed almost the entire season with a knee injury. Now, he will play in his first postseason game.
"It's real special," he said. "It's a huge accomplishment. You've got to give credit to all the guys—from OTAs, coming in every single day with the right mindset, with the right work ethic. I've got to give credit to the coaches. And it's a beautiful thing. I mean no one, let's be honest, no one besides the men and women in that facility gave us a chance to accomplish this and we just stuck to the script, kept believing in each other and gave ourselves the opportunity and we did it. But at the end of the day, we've still got next week to get ready for and you want to make it to the playoffs, but it's not like when you're making the playoffs it's not like you've won the Super Bowl. You give yourself a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, so it's just another step ahead and we've just got to keep working."
The game was competitive for only the first quarter, which ended with the Colts ahead, 3-0. That proved to be a mirage, because by halftime the Giants enjoyed a comfortable 24-3 advantage.
The surge began with Jones' six-yard touchdown pass to Richie James, who led the Giants with seven catches for 76 yards. Jones evaded the rush, bought time by rolling to his right, and found James alone in the front of the end zone to complete an 11-play, 71-yard drive.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Giants traveled 64 yards in nine plays, and again scored on a six-yard Jones pass, to Isaiah Hodgins.
The Colts managed to run five plays before Nick Foles tried to connect with Parris Campbell in front of the Giants' bench. Collins, playing in his fifth game of the season and second since being signed to the active roster, picked it off and raced up the sideline for the longest Giants interception return touchdown in more than five years.
"I'm a big formation kind of guy," Collins said. "I watched this play almost six times throughout the week and I saw number one (Campbell) breaking out and I had the flat, I just broke my underneath it and took it to the house."
"It was a good play," Daboll said. "Ball was thrown inside. He was on it. It was funny. (Defensive coordinator) Wink's (Martindale) done a great job all year. He called a really good game. I'll just chime in there once in a while with my two cents, not on calls. Just I'm like, 'Hey this one's going to the house right here,' before he called it. So, it went to the house."
Graham Gano closed the first-half scoring with a 36-yard field goal as time expired.
The only mystery in the second half was what the final margin would be. The Giants added to their points total with Jones' touchdown runs of 18 and 10 yards, both around the left side. Indianapolis' lone touchdown was a six-yard pass from backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger to Michael Pittman.
"I thought they played a good, complementary game," Daboll said. "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."
Especially when it puts you in the playoffs.