EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Leonard Williams continues to have a pain in his neck but has finally lost one that has gnawed at his gut.
Winning will do that. For the first time since his 2015 rookie season with the Jets, Williams plays for a team that will finish with a winning record. The current Giants have gone even further, securing the first postseason berth of his career.
Ironically, he reached that in the only season of his eight-year career that he missed games due to injury – three early in the season with a sprained knee and the loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 11, one week after Williams left the game vs. Washington with a neck issue.
"It's definitely been tough dealing with injuries this year because I've never dealt with injuries much my career," Williams said today. "To be on the sideline while my teammates are on the field fighting for a game is very tough for me, something that I had to adjust to and learn from this year. It happens to everybody at some point in their career. I've been dealing with it."
That would be more difficult if the Giants were losing.
"The winning makes it better, for sure," Williams said.
The Giants clinched their first playoff berth since 2016 with a resounding 38-10 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts last week. Williams' teams had not won more than six games in any of the previous six seasons. Now, the Giants are 9-6-1 heading into Sunday's season finale in Philadelphia, followed by an NFC Wild Card Game at Minnesota or San Francisco.
"It feels amazing," Williams said. "That feeling after the game was just unbeatable. Just seeing all the smiles on my teammates, just knowing how long it's been since I've had an opportunity to do this. It means a lot to me. The last time I had an opportunity was my rookie year and we lost to Buffalo the last game of the season.
"I actually talked to some of my D-line room before that game and I was like, 'After that game, being a rookie and going that far rookie year – I was thinking if we came this far, why not again next year?' The fact that it took seven years to get back there is crazy. I was trying to let everyone know the meaning of – these opportunities don't come often and that we should take advantage of it. We did. We went out there and played one of our best games as a team and we played really good team football. It paid off."
Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was asked if he sensed if advancing to the playoffs is special for Williams.
"It means something to everybody, it really does," Martindale said. "Even if you have been to the playoffs, they know how hard it is to get there just out of respect for the league and the players that play in it. They're all getting excited and getting ready for that. It's fun to be around them."
This season has also been special for Williams because he and close friend Dexter Lawrence have become one the NFL's most formidable defensive line duos. Lawrence leads the team with 7.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits, is third with 68 tackles (35 solo), and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Despite missing four games, Williams has 45 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries.
Why have they become such a force in their fourth season together?
"I think a big reason is because we know each other pretty well," Williams said. "It makes it easier for us to communicate with each other on and off the field. If we see something that one of us can get better from or if something is holding us back or something like that, if he comes to me and says, 'Hey Leo, I feel like this is holding you back,' I'm not going to be offended because I know that it's coming from a good place because we're not only good teammates – I feel like we're pretty good friends. Also, we've been playing with each other for four years now so we know how to play off of each other and have a feel for where each other is on the field and stuff like that."
Williams also gives credit to a pair of defensive coaches who are new to the team this season, Martindale and line coach Andre Patterson.
"They've had a huge impact," Williams said. "Wink obviously has been doing a good job of scheming up teams and just a good job of drawing up plays and stuff like that. But then Coach Dre is just a D-line guru in my opinion. He's taught me a lot of football late in my career. That was interesting because most times if you've played this long in the NFL and in football, you feel like sometimes it's like there's not too much that people can teach you.
"(Michael) Strahan, actually this year, came into our meeting room one time and told us even when he was in year 10 or something like that, he was still learning from the young guys coming in. No matter where you're at in your career, you can always learn something. I feel like it was cool to hear that from Strahan because I really have learned a lot this year from Dex and also from Coach Dre."
The only negative in Williams' week is his ongoing neck soreness. He did not practice today and it's unknown if he will play against the Eagles.
"I feel alright," he said. "I've been battling through it for a few weeks now. It's something that really isn't going to get better until I'm not playing football, you know what I mean? This is something that is probably going to go away during the offseason. I'm taking care of it as much as possible during the week, the team is doing a good job of taking care of me and still going."
Knowing he will soon play in his first postseason game has greatly eased Williams' discomfort.
"It's all been worth it," he said. "The pain has been – I've been dealing with it and playing. It's paid off the fact that we have a playoff spot. It's worth it."
View photos from practice as the Giants get ready for their regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
*In addition to Williams, linebacker Azeez Ojulari (ankle) did not practice. Center Jon Feliciano (back), who did not practice yesterday, was limited today, as was cornerback Adoree' Jackson (knee). Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence practiced fully after getting a rest day, as did safety Xavier McKinney (fingers).
*Brian Daboll continues to keep private his player participation plans for the game Sunday. He said he will make final decisions tomorrow but won't reveal them before the game.
"We'll just make the best decision we think is right for our team," Daboll said.
*Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts, who missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, was limited in practice for the second straight day. If Hurts doesn't play, Gardner Minshew will start.
View rare photos of the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.