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2023 Playoffs

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Be your best when best is needed: Vets share advice for playoff rookies

GRAHAM-GANO

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Graham Gano is the Giants' resident sage.

The 13-year kicker has played in 184 regular-season games, 60 more than his closest teammate, Leonard Williams. His seven postseason games tie him with center Jon Feliciano for the highest total among current Giants. Gano joins running back Matt Breida and wide receiver Richie James as the only Giants on the active roster to play in a Super Bowl (plus Terrell Burgess and Jaydon Mickens, who are on the practice squad).

Only 17 players on the current 53-man roster have played in a postseason game. Those who are active among the other 36 players will get their first taste of the postseason on Sunday when the Giants face the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Wild Card Game in U.S. Bank Stadium.

Gano has been asked by his less experienced teammates about the atmosphere and pressures of playing in the postseason.

"I've been telling the young guys this: It's no different than any other game football-wise," Gano said. "It's the same game that we've been playing since we were kids. I think a lot of people try to make it more than what it is. It's exciting; there's more energy in the stadiums. You know that if you lose, you're out. So, it's higher stakes for sure. But at the end of the day, it's the same football game that we've been playing. And you don't want to make more of it than what it is. You just have to show up and be at your best when your best is needed."

View photos from practice as the Giants get ready for their Wild Card matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

Breida and James played on the San Francisco 49ers team that lost to Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV three years ago. They each take the same approach as Gano.

"I just tell them, 'It's football,'" Breida said. "It's the playoffs, but don't treat the game any differently. It's football at the end of the day. Don't make it any bigger than what it is. People are going to be like, 'Oh, it's a playoff game.' Yeah, it's a playoff game. We know if we lose, we go home. But just go play football."

"If you think about it like, 'If we win this game, we advance. If we lose this game, we don't,' you're going to put more pressure on yourself," James said. "You're going to mess up. You're going to overthink too much. So, you've got to treat it like a game."

Feliciano made his postseason debut with Oakland in 2016 and was in the playoffs each of the previous three seasons with Buffalo. He has talked "a little" to the younger players about what to expect.

"But honestly, it's the same thing," Felicinao said. "It's another football game. It is a regular game, besides the fact that you go home if you lose. When you mess up in a regular game, it's not the same as doing it here. As a competitor, you never want to lose. So, it's the same mindset."

Some of the other key Giants with postseason experience are cornerback Adoree' Jackson (six games), right guard Mark Glowinski (five), linebacker Jihad Ward (three) and defensive lineman Justin Ellis (three). Linebacker Landon Collins is the only player on the current roster who played in the Giants' last postseason game six years ago in a wild card loss to the Packers in Green Bay.

The Giants lost to the Vikings three weeks ago in Minneapolis, but Ellis had a warning for his less experienced teammates who think this game will be similar.

"I was telling those guys that it's not going to be that same team we went against a few weeks ago," he said. "It's not going to be the same, so you want to study and make sure you get familiar with them. The intensity is going to go up because it's do or die.

"They will come at the ball way faster, way harder. It's just so much more intense. You just have to get on it. You have to be ready right from the start, so we won't get behind. You don't want to get caught off guard and try to play catch up the rest of the game. You've got to come out there knowing that it's either win or go home. And everybody should have that mindset: 'We've got to win today or go home.'"

The Giants who will make their playoff debuts include many of their most important contributors, including quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, wide receiver Darius Slayton, tackles Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Williams, and safeties Xavier McKinney and Julian Love.

"I think we all know what's at stake, so nobody really has to say anything," McKinney said. "We've got some guys on this team that have been in the playoffs before, so they know kind of how it goes. A lot of us, we've played in big games (in college). We know how it goes, so we just try not to get too high, try not to be too low, but stay even keeled and just be ready for Sunday."

"I'm excited. First time in my career being in the playoffs," said Love, a four-year veteran. "We've got a good opportunity in front of us. Everybody is excited. I've been at home at this point in the season, so it's exciting to be here."

Perhaps no one feels that more strongly than Williams. In his eighth NFL season, he is on a team with a winning record for the second time and a playoff team for the first. Williams conceded he will "probably" take a moment before the game and take in the scene at his first postseason game.

"That's what I've been saying even about being in this building every day, I've been feeling that way," Williams said. "I've been embracing work even on a different level than I normally do. Like coming in on a Wednesday, Thursday, during this week when everyone else is going home already feels special to me. So, I know going out there on gameday, knowing that I'm playing and there's so many other teams that are at home, it's going to feel special to me. I'm going to embrace it while it's there, while I'm having that feeling, but after the National Anthem, I'm going to treat it like another game."

Just as his teammates with postseason experience would urge him to do.

View rare photos of the Giants' history playing on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs.

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