MINNEAPOLIS – The Giants made numerous plays Saturday afternoon in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Saquon Barkley motored up the middle for a 27-yard touchdown that tied the game late and was one of three Giants players to finish with eight receptions. Daniel Jones completed a career-high 30 passes, including a seven-yard touchdown to Isaiah Hodgins. Four different Giants defenders sacked Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins. Graham Gano kicked three field goals, including a 55-yarder.
But the Giants still fell short when Greg Joseph kicked a Vikings record 61-yard field goal as time expired to give Minnesota a 27-24 victory.
Had the Giants won, they would have clinched a playoff berth, because Detroit, Seattle and Washington all lost. They can still guarantee their postseason participation by winning either of their final two games, at home against Indianapolis or at Philadelphia.
But the Giants could have done so with a victory against the 12-3 Vikings, who have won an NFL single-season record 11 one-score games. When the Giants analyzed why didn't, it all came back to plays, but not those they made.
"Give them credit," coach Brian Daboll said. "They made a few more plays than we did."
"At the end of the day, they made more plays than us," Barkley said.
"In games like this against good teams, those three or four plays, you've got to make them," Jones said. "You've got to be able to make the big play at the critical point in the game, and we didn't do that today. So, we did a lot of things well. We moved the ball well. We did make some plays, but not enough."
It wasn't enough, for two reasons. The first is that the Giants were unable to slow a Vikings passing attack led by quarterback Kirk Cousins (34 completions for 299 yards), tight end T.J. Hockenson (13 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns) and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (12 receptions for 133 yards and one score).
The second was the Giants made critical errors that enabled Minnesota to recover a fumble, intercept a pass and block a punt. They also surrendered touchdown catches to Hockenson and Jefferson when they were closely covered by two defenders.
"You have two turnovers, a blocked punt, to be in the game at the end of the game, the guys were resilient, but you can't have those mistakes," Daboll said. "The fumble took away three points, interception took away at least three points, that's minimum, and then we give the ball back to them in our territory where they hit (Justin) Jefferson there. We got him doubled, but he makes a good play, and they made the plays they needed to win the game. So, give them credit. Long field goal, it was a good kick by the kicker."
View photos from the Giants' Week 16 game against the Minnesota Vikings.
After the Vikings jumped out to a 10-0 lead, the Giants rallied to take a 13-10 lead and the teams were within a single score for the final 34 minutes of the game. It was an inspired performance by the Giants against one of the NFL's best teams.
But, oh those mistakes.
The first occurred on the initial play of the second quarter. Jones completed a 16-yard pass to the rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger, who had a first down at the Vikings' 23-yard line. But linebacker Brian Asamoah II, another first-year player, forced Bellinger to fumble, recovered the ball and returned it to the 36-yard line. That led to Joseph's 40-yard field goal.
"Caught the ball, went to turn up field, and I just think I was being a little careless with it," Bellinger said. "Got to lock it up. And 'double in trouble' is the word we use. It sucks, but just got to keep it tight. It was tough. Looking back at it, especially now, it means that much more. Just got to make sure it doesn't happen again."
The Giants responded with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that ended with the scoring throw to Hodgins, his third touchdown of the season.
Two Gano 44-yard field goals in the third quarter gave the Giants a three-point lead. They appeared to enhance their momentum on the third play of Minnesota's subsequent drive when Cor'Dale Flott intercepted a Cousins pass. But all turnovers are reviewed and this one was reversed. The Vikings then completed a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended when Hockenson caught a 15-yard touchdown pass despite being sandwiched by defensive backs Julian Love and Darnay Holmes.
The Giants again responded impressively, moving to the Minnesota 32-yard line in four plays. But on the fifth, Jones' pass for Hodgins was intercepted by Patrick Peterson at the 18-yard line, putting a frustrating end to another scoring chance.
"Just a bad throw," Jones said. "Just threw it behind him - got to give a better ball there."
The Vikings failed on a fourth-and-two from the Giants' 44-yard line and 2½ minutes later Gano's 55-yard field goal cut Minnesota's lead to 17-16.
After the Vikings went three-and-out, the Giants had a chance to take the lead. But they gained just six yards in three plays. Gillan was summoned to punt, but his kick was blocked by Josh Metellus, who blew through the middle untouched.
"The scheme was the perfect scheme for what we had called that play," said Love, the up-back on the play. "They played it cleanly. They had two serious rushers. They ran just a clean pick stunt, and they got through."
Minnesota then covered 29 yards in five plays, the last a 17-yard pass down the middle to Jefferson, who got a step on cornerback Fabian Moreau and caught the ball before safety Jason Pinnock could knock it away. The score increased Minnesota's lead to 24-16.
"They made the plays they needed to do to win it," Daboll said.
But the Giants showed their resilience. Jones' 32-yard pass to Darius Slayton keyed a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Barkley bursting through a hole and sprinting 27 yards for a touchdown. When Jones and Bellinger hooked up for the two-point conversion, the score was tied at 24 with 2:01 left.
That was more than enough time for the Vikings. Jefferson picked up a first down on a 16-yard reception and three plays later – on third-and-11 following Landon Collins' first sack of the season - picked up 17 more on a wide receiver screen to the right side. Cousins spiked the ball to stop the clock with four seconds left. Given time for one more play, Joseph made it one for Vikings lore, a 61-yard field goal that was five yards longer than any previous kick in franchise history.
By then, the Giants knew exactly what had happened.
"We didn't play our best game," center Jon Feliciano said. "They knocked a 61-yard field goal to win. There's no moral victories. But I think it's kind of obvious, if we played better, we probably could've won that game."
Love was stationed under the crossbar, where he waited in vain for a missed attempt.
"We didn't play a clean game," he said. "That's what games down the stretch come down to. Two turnovers, a blocked punt, penalties, not capitalizing on an interception – all that culminated into losing this game."