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Kayvon Thibodeaux looks to build on breakout game

KAYVON-THIBODEAUX

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Kayvon Thibodeaux was arguably the NFL's most impactful defensive player last weekend, and he has the NFC Defensive Player of the Week Award to prove it.

But to him, it was little more than a good start to what he anticipates will be a productive final three weeks to the season and beyond.

"I feel like that was a building moment for me and I had a great game," Thibodeaux said after practice today. "But I feel like it's not real until you do it again. We're getting close to the end of the season, and I've just got to keep stacking them and carry this momentum into the playoffs."

His next opportunity will be Saturday in Minneapolis, where the 8-5-1 Giants will tangle with the 11-3, NFC North champion Vikings. A Giants victory, coupled with losses by at least two teams from among Washington, Detroit and Seattle will put the Giants in the playoffs.

Their prospects for winning and advancing will be enhanced if Thibodeaux duplicates his award-winning performance in the Giants' 20-12 victory against the Commanders Sunday night.

He finished with a career and game-high 12 tackles (nine solo), including three for loss. Thibodeaux scored the Giants' first defensive touchdown of the season on a one-yard fumble return with 13:10 remaining in the second quarter. On second-and-18 from the Commanders' 10-yard line, Thibodeaux sacked Taylor Heinicke for a nine-yard loss and knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hand. He picked it up and stepped into the end zone to give the Giants a lead they would keep for the remainder of the game.

Thibodeaux made another huge play with 1:03 remaining in the fourth quarter when he chased Heinicke from the end zone and tackled him after a nine-yard gain, preventing him from picking up a first down inside the one. The Commanders never did get into the end zone.

"It definitely does give me a few stripes," Thibodeaux said of his performance. "I can look myself in the mirror and know that I came here to play, and I came here for a purpose. Just not trying to let it get too ahead of me, not trying to live in the moment, not trying to get too high on myself but just continue to realize that the steps I took all week and all year is what got me there. So, I've just got to hone in on that and that's going to keep them coming."

Thibodeaux was asked if he liked being named Defensive Player of the Week?

"You love recognition," he said. "When you're doing the dirty work and you're working hard, you sacrifice your body to glorify your soul. It definitely does feel good."

Perhaps no one enjoyed Thibodeaux's performance more than defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who has promoted the rookie's skillset all season.

"It was fun to watch," Martindale said. "I keep telling you all this: He's working on the little things. He's getting better every week. I think that was an accumulation of all the work that he's done."

What is Thibodeaux's ceiling?

"I have no idea," Martindale said. "I don't want to put a ceiling on him. I don't because that's how special I think he is – he and Azeez (Ojulari) both."

As Martindale noted, Thibodeaux was anything but a one-man band in Washington. Indeed, the entire defensive front tormented the Commanders. Ojulari had four tackles and split a sack with Dexter Lawrence, who forced a fumble by quarterback Taylor Heinicke that was recovered by a fourth member of the group, Leonard Williams.

"They did a nice job of rushing the quarterback, especially when we needed it and not just Kayvon, but Azeez," Martindale said. "Getting back to Kayvon, obviously the sack, strip, fumble for a touchdown, was a huge play for us. But an even bigger play, I thought, was when he was in coverage and came out of his coverage when the quarterback started scrambling. He tackled him on the one-yard line down there. That was a huge play for us. We always talk about (how) there's going to be big plays in this game. Both sides of the football get paid. Just get him down to give us a chance to stand. There is no play more evident than that one that he gave us a place to stand, and we were able to come up with the stop."

"The only reason I was able to have a game like I had is because of the rest of the front," Thibodeaux said. "If you noticed, once we all came together and we all start playing great then we started to see that production and we started making plays. I think the credit is to all of us and we've just got to continue to stay healthy, continue to get better, and continue to get more cohesive as rushers."

But awards and recognition result in more attention from the opposition. Thibodeaux concedes he may start to see extra blockers assigned to him and lose the luxury of having to get by only a lineman who is not nearly as quick as he.

"I wish you didn't even ask me that on camera," he said. "Because hopefully they keep giving me the one-on-one's, we keep giving these different looks, so it gives me some opportunities to make plays."

The Giants certainly hope so.

View the best photos of Giants rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux.

*Saquon Barkley was asked about Franco Harris, the Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and fellow Penn State alum, who died last night at age 72.

"I got to have some conversations with him at Penn State," Barkley said. "Obviously, I saw the news this morning. I just want to pay my respects to his family. But yeah, Franco was a great guy. The conversations I was able to have with him, him being a legend. Obviously, he was an amazing player. It was tough what he was able to do at Penn State. It was an honor to meet him. Like I said, sad, sad news and I just want to give my respects to his family."

*The Giants' injury report was unchanged from yesterday. Cornerback Adoree' Jackson (knee) and guard Shane Lemieux (toe) did not practice.

*Tackle Evan Neal (shoulder), defensive lineman Leonard Williams (neck), tight end Nick Vannett (shoulder) and Thibodeaux (elbow) were limited.

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