EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Perhaps the best way to describe the Giants' state of mind as they enter the season's final three weeks is that they are cautiously excited. Or excitedly cautious.
Their scintillating 20-12 road victory Sunday night against the Washington Commanders – with whom they had been tied – improved their record to 8-5-1 and left them in full control of their postseason possibilities. If they win their last three games, the Giants will make the playoffs for the first time in six years as no worse than the sixth seed in the NFC.
But those three games include road contests against the teams currently 1-2 in the conference, a season-ender in Philadelphia against the 13-1 Eagles and a matchup Saturday in Minneapolis vs. the 11-3 Vikings, who just became the first team in NFL history to win after trailing by 33 points. The team they beat, the Indianapolis Colts, will provide the opposition for the Giants' final home game on New Year's Day.
So yes, winning in Washington was a big deal. It was the Giants' first division victory of the season, and it was earned on the road against a team they had tied just two weeks earlier. But in terms of the big picture, it guaranteed nothing.
"Well, it feels good to get the win, it's a big win for us," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "You know, playing meaningful games here in December is where you want to be. But we still got three more important games for us, and we haven't achieved that goal yet. We still got to play well, and we'll take it one game at a time."
"What does it really mean? It means we give ourselves a better chance of accomplishing our goals," said running back Saquon Barkley, who gained 52 of his 87 rushing yards in the decisive fourth quarter. "That's one day at a time. Come in, we got a quick turnaround Saturday against a really good team that just came back from being down 33 points. None of us are shocked in this locker room. We knew what we were capable of doing, and we put ourselves in the driver seat to control our own destiny. Gotta take it one day at a time to win games."
That, of course, has been Brian Daboll's mantra all season. The first-year coach was noticeably unemotional at his postgame news conference. He spoke about specific plays and players but stuck to his custom of deflecting big picture questions.
One reporter opined that the victory was one of the franchise's biggest in five or six years. Considering the Giants topped out at six victories (in 2020) during that time frame, it's a fair assumption. But Daboll was not interested in dissecting the point.
"I'll just say what it means for the game: It gives you an opportunity to be successful in the game when your best players are playing well," Daboll said. "The significance of this win – again, you've heard me say it (and) I know it's boring: It's a division game. I'm not focused on what it means or anything like that. We're 8-5-1; we went 1-0 this week. And I'd say that there are a lot of guys that contributed to the outcome of the game, made some good plays in critical times. That's what we're going to need going forward."
View photos from the Giants' 20-12 win over the Washington Commanders.
The Giants' postgame was raucous. Loud music played, players, coaches, staffers and executives hugged one another and there was movement in the cramped quarters that might be described as dancing.
"Every time you win a game, that's part of the joy of being a coach – seeing the players in the locker room with a smile on their face, seeing the coaches," Daboll said. "We all know everybody in this business puts a lot of time, effort and energy into trying to get the outcome that we hope for. And when you do, it's good to be happy about it. Our guys were excited. I would say on the ride back, they were tired. There wasn't a whole lot of – there was a lot of sleeping. There were a lot of guys watching the tape.
"We had a quick captains' meeting on the train ride home. And then, myself with different people in the organization: trainers, sports science, coaching staffs, just the coordinators. So, we're trying to get ready to go for this upcoming week, put a lot into it. Again, just to the question, I think it's important to see players put a lot of work and effort into it and get the results that they're hoping for. So, that's been really the case all year. And not get too down when you don't get the results; not get too high when you get the results."
The players have heard that so often, they could probably recite a Daboll address to the team verbatim.
"I think it's a good feeling," safety Julian Love said. "I think this is a big game, on the road, against a division opponent. Winning this game or losing this game didn't mean anything guaranteed for the playoffs, regardless. And so, it just gives us an opportunity, and that's all you want. Ninety-one percent (chance to make the playoffs) is better than zero, I'll tell you that much. And so, we're going to stay consistent. We are going stay locked in. We've got a big game next week, but we are going to enjoy this and analyze what we did right and what we did wrong and correct things."
They will do so with a cautious excitement.
*Graham Gano played for Washington in his first three NFL seasons. In his customary lowkey manner, he took great joy in the victory last night. Gano scored eight points, including a pair of 50-yard field goals. How did that feel?
"Good. Shoot, we had that last year," he said, correctly, of the 52 and 55-yarders he kicked in a one-point loss. "And going out for the last one (immediately after the two-minute warning), I looked over and I was like, 'Oh, we're about to do it again.' It's exciting. It's awesome (that) they have the trust to send me out there in the cold and against the wind. He's (Daboll) got trust in me. He came up to me. Coach came up, and he said, 'Hey, what'd you tell me?' I gave him a distance, and we went for it. It was exciting. It was exciting to get that with the guys."
*Playing in his third and final game as a practice squad elevation, Landon Collins participated in a season-high 27 defensive snaps, plus 14 on special teams.
"It was exciting," Collins said. "It wasn't even about the game; it was more just getting the opportunity to get back on the field, show what I could do playing-wise and just being the best I can be for this team – trying to help them win."
For Collins to play again, the Giants must sign him to their active roster.
"That's something (general manager) Joe (Schoen) and I will talk about, not just about Landon but with all the individuals, like we do each week," Daboll said. "We haven't had a chance to sit down and discuss those things, but certainly that topic – probably amongst a bunch of other ones like they do each week – come up. We'll talk about it."
*Daboll said, "I think we should be in good shape," regarding injuries from the game.
*The Commanders organization and their fans were upset about a late illegal formation penalty on Terry McLaurin that negated a Brian Robinson touchdown with 1:01 left and a non-call on what they thought was defensive pass interference by Darnay Holmes on their final offensive plays.
"I think that's the nature of our league," Daboll said. "The officials have a tough job to do. I think being in this league for a long time, you're probably on both sides of it. I respect what they do, and again I said it last night: Look, Darnay made a good play."
*And finally, the big issue of the day: why did Daboll reduce his full beard to a goatee before the game in Washington?
"Well, look, I try to change things up when things aren't going well (the Giants were 0-3-1 in their previous four games)," he said. "That includes looking like this, which trust me, my wife and daughters, they're not very happy about that. But I try to do anything for a win. So, it was almost a mustache. I gained about – I don't know how many pounds – the last couple weeks. So, I kept a little bit of the goatee on there (to) cover up some of the other parts. There's a lot of parts."
The Giants' victory ensures the new look will stay for at least one more week.
"Absolutely, unfortunately for everybody else," Daboll said. "Not really sure that really makes the difference but change it up. There's a lot of skin underneath that beard, but so be it."