PHILADELPHIA – In some respects, the Giants' 2022 regular-season finale was the most unusual game of the year.
The starting lineups were devoid of the team's statistical leaders and high-profile players. Numerous contributions were made by players who seldom have a significant impact on game day.
Davis Webb, in his sixth season since being drafted in 2017, threw his first 40 regular season passes and was never sacked. But the team's leading receiver, a tight end, was. So was the holder on a fake field goal attempt. Kenny Golladay scored his first touchdown in two Giants seasons with just 1:38 remaining. Rodarius Williams, who entered the game with six career tackles, led the Giants with 10, doubling his season total.
But as the uncommon and unexpected coursed through the game, so did so many of the traits the Giants have displayed all season. They played with their customary emotion, determination and tenacity and gave the top-seeded team in the NFC playoffs all it could handle and probably much more than it expected.
Playing backups on both sides of the ball against Philadelphia's first teamers, the Giants held the Eagles to just one touchdown and were a recovered onside kick away from having an opportunity to win the game. They lost, 22-16, in Lincoln Financial Field, to a team that defeated them four weeks earlier by 26 points in MetLife Stadium. The 9-7-1 Giants are seeded sixth in the NFC and will visit third-seeded Minnesota Sunday at 4:40 p.m. on Super Wild Card Weekend. The Eagles finished 14-3 and earned the conference's only bye.
"It's the NFL, so the guys you have on your team, you have confidence in," coach Brian Daboll said. "We certainly have confidence in all the guys that we have. You're not playing walk-ons and things like that. You're playing people that earned the right to be on the team and compete and play. So, whoever we have out there, I have confidence in. They all know what to do. I thought they played a very competitive game."
View rare photos of the Giants' history playing on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs.
Seventeen Giants starters were either inactive or were in uniform but never left the sideline. They included Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Daniel Bellinger, Isaiah Hodgins, Andrew Thomas, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Fabian Moreau, Julian Love and Xavier McKinney.
Taking their place were Webb, Matt Breida, Marcus Johnson, Justin Ellis, Jarrad Davis, Nick McCloud, Dane Belton and many others. Gary Brightwell led the Giants with 60 rushing yards on 11 carries. Tight end Lawrence Cager led the team with eight catches for 69 yards. All those figures were career highs.
Webb, who had a total of four regular season snaps since he was selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, played the entire game and completed 23 of his first 40 career passes for 168 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Despite all the substitutes, the Giants did not commit a single turnover.
"Very exciting," Webb said. "I want to thank all the O-linemen and (wide receivers) Marcus (Johnson), KG (Golladay), (tight end Lawrence) Cager, (running backs) Gary (Brightwell), Matt (Breida). It was a lot of fun playing with those guys. And (wide receiver) Darius (Slayton) came in a couple of plays. I appreciate that. We battled, and they're a really good team – number one seed in the NFC. And we took them four quarters, and I wish myself, first, and the offense, second, got off to a better start. But that second half was really fun. And that's something I'll never forget."
Webb, who evaded a strong Eagles rush the entire game, also rushed for 41 yards on six carries, including a 14-yard touchdown on which he steamrolled safety Reed Blackenship. When it was suggested to Webb that he had waited five years for that play and nothing was going to stop him, he said, "Spot on. I slid the first draw, and they kind of collapsed on me pretty quick. We called something similar, and I think it was third-and-8 (it was). There were some predetermined decisions there, like 'You got to get it in (the end zone) or get it close.' So, when it was an opportunity, just anticipating and executing."
The Giants were unable to convert the two-point try and trailed, 19-9, with 10:04 remaining. Late in the fourth quarter, Jake Elliott kicked his fifth field goal to increase Philly's lead to 13 points. Golladay ended the ensuing possession with a sensational one-handed catch and got his feet down in the back of the end zone despite what seemed to be defensive pass interference by cornerback Darius Slay, his former teammate in Detroit. It was Golladay's first touchdown in 26 games with the Giants.
"I definitely appreciate it," Golladay said. "It was a long time coming. It felt good. It especially felt good to also make a play for Webb. I think this was his first start, so it felt good for him to get a touchdown."
Webb was just as a happy to hook up with Golladay.
"I told him on Tuesday or Wednesday, 'I promise if it's one-on-one, you're going to get a shot. And you're going to catch it. And you're going to do it,'" Webb said. "And he did it over a former teammate, and it was a great opportunity for him. And he executed it. He played hard. We only played with two receivers (Johnson and Golladay) most of the game, and they battled their butts off."
So did the Giants' defense. In the loss last month, the unit surrendered 253 rushing yards and 437 total yards. On Sunday, those figures fell to 135 and 342. The Eagles advanced into the red zone and scored the one touchdown on Giant-killer Boston Scott's eight-yard run in the first quarter. The defense recorded three sacks of Jalen Hurts, including 1.5 by McCloud, the first of his career.
"Our defense stood out," Daboll said. "They (the Eagles) scored one touchdown. We held them to field goals on some short fields. I thought everybody out there competed. I'm not going to single out any individual. I just thought they all competed right to the end. And it ended up being a one-score game there. We tried to get an onside kick, but we just came up a little bit short."
But the Giants, who were shutout in the first half for the first time since the season opener in Tennessee, couldn't complete the upset because, as Daboll said, "There's a few things, obviously, we could have done a little bit better. We tried a few plays to get us going there – the fake field goal and the onside kick – just to try to generate some offense. We were stalling a little bit there for the first half plus a little bit."
The first of those plays occurred on the last snap of the first quarter. Graham Gano lined up for what would have been a 47-yard try, but Jamie Gillan took the snap and wanted to throw a pass, but before he could cock his arm, Zach McPhearson sacked him for an 11-yard loss.
The Giants opened the second half with an onside kick that was recovered by the Eagles. But Belton ensured the Eagles wouldn't add to their lead when he intercepted Hurts' pass in the end zone.
Later in the quarter, the Giants attempted another gadget play, this time on offense. Cager was handed the ball and wanted to pass, but he too was sacked, for a two-yard loss by Kyzir White.
"I was talking all week (about) that play," Cager said. "I'm like, 'Bro, I'm just not trying to mess up my passer rating.' And now it's just zero. I almost got free. I was close. Credit to the Eagles. They read out that play very well. So, that was just on me to not make it a disaster."
Asked if he completed the pass in practice, Cager said, "I did. It's going to come again."
So, perhaps, will those eight receptions.
"It was fun," Cager said. "That's what Coach Dabs and Coach Kafka (offensive coordinator Mike Kafka) told me and told the whole team: 'Just go out there and have fun.' That's all we want to do. I feel like that's what everybody did. And we were in a tight game. That's all you can ask for. It's fun when it's a tight game and you know it counts and you know that we adjust. It's amazing."
After Golladay's touchdown, the Giants tried another onside kick, but it was smothered by Blackenship.
Now the Giants turn their attention to their rematch with the Vikings, who beat them on Christmas Eve in Minnesota, 27-24, on Greg Joseph's 61-yard field goal as time expired.
"Usually in the playoffs, if you're playing good teams, you'll probably get a crack at them twice," Daboll said. "So, we'll need our best week of preparation."
View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings