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5 Things We Learned

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5 things we learned (1/12): 'Keep raising the bar'

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The Giants will head back to Minnesota for a rematch against the Vikings on Super Wild Card Weekend.

The two teams met just three weeks ago on Christmas Eve, where the Giants lost at the last-second thanks to Greg Joseph drilling a career-long 61-yard field goal as time expired.

Playoff preparations continued on Thursday as offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey met with the media before the team took the practice field in the fieldhouse in East Rutherford.

Here are five things we learned from the coordinators.

1. 'We want to keep raising the bar'

Since 2007, the Giants have made the playoffs just four times, with two of them resulting in a Lombardi Trophy. The franchise has four Super Bowl titles since the NFL-AFL merger, and all four teams have a major component in common – they all had dominant defenses who got after the quarterback. This history does not go unnoticed by Wink Martindale, who uses the historic Big Blue defenses as inspiration for this year's unit.

"We know where the standard is, and we want to keep raising the bar," Wink Martindale said. "That's why I keep referring to the fans, I think they like seeing it. They like seeing an attacking style defense and ones that can hit the quarterback, We've had 19 different guys this year on the roster that's got a sack. That's crazy. It's also once again a credit to the players and their coaches."

Martindale has spoken in recent weeks about how they were able to build a "playoff defense". They've done this by staying consistent all season, along with each member of the unit taking a selfless, team-first approach every week. But when talking to the media Thursday, the defensive coordinator shared that it was the first meeting against the Vikings that truly showed him what his unit was capable of.

"I think that was the beginning of, I told the coaches and I told Dex (Lawrence), you can ask Dex and Leo (Williams), I said we've got a playoff defense here, guys," said Martindale. "Just keep playing it one play at a time and that's when it was 24-(16). That's when we were down, that's before the offense scored. Then I went on the back of the plane, and I told them, I said, "we've got a playoff defense, guys. We got beat by a buzzer beater at half-court". That's what it was. The biggest thing in this league is you never let one game beat you twice. So, you stay consistent."

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

2. Focus is on winning one game

With the NFL calendar now flipping to the postseason, it's easy to start thinking ahead - but not at 1925 Giants Drive. Head coach Brian Daboll has reiterated since the start of the season that the team would stay consistent and keep focused on the task at hand. This week, that means all attention is solely on the Minnesota Vikings, something his coordinators reiterated Thursday.

"When you've had such a drought that we've had around here, you definitely appreciate it," Thomas McGaughey said about making the postseason. "But it's just 'win one game.' My primary focus is on (Vikings ST Coordinator) Matt Daniels and his group and just winning one game. That's all we're focused on right now. And it's nice to see all the stuff around it, but our primary focus is just trying to go, as a unit, go win one game. Make a positive-impact play in the kicking game that can help us win one game."

With this being the franchise's first trip to the postseason since 2016, it will serve as the first playoff game for a lot of players throughout the roster. Sterling Shepard and Landon Collins are the only two players on the team that were a part of the last playoff squad. While today served as a "normal Thursday" inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, McGaughey did take a moment to reflect on many of the players taking part in their first NFL playoff game.

"I'm happy for them because not every player in this league gets a chance to experience playoff football," said the special teams coordinator. "There's a lot of guys that will play 10, 15 years and never go to the playoffs. So, some of these young guys, their first year in the league, they're going into a playoff situation. It's cool for them because they get a chance to experience it. It's, again, setting them up moving forward, giving them something to go after moving forward – a goal to go after just to know what the feeling is to play in a playoff game and play meaningful football in January."

3. Receivers 'put the work in'

A lot has been made this season about the Giants' wide receiver corps. The three leading receivers were either buried on the depth chart or not even on the team at the start of the season. Darius Slayton (724 yards), Richie James (569) and Isaiah Hodgins (351) have all played significant roles in the team's success, especially over the last month of the regular season. While they might be gaining recognition from the media only in recent weeks, the entire WR room has been performing whenever they've gotten a chance since early in the year.

"First off, those guys – they put a lot of time in studying and prepping themselves, getting on the same page with the quarterback room," Mike Kafka said. "I think (wide receivers) coach (Mike) Groh has done a great job of getting those guys together as well, coaching the fundamentals and the techniques that we stress…

"When you're playing football, you want to play with emotion, and you want to play with a certain attitude. I think those guys bring it, they bring it to practice every day and they've been bringing it all season long."

Hodgins didn't even join the team until November 2, when the Giants claimed him off waivers from the Buffalo Bills. The second-year receiver was a sixth-round pick of the Bills back in 2020 and spent two seasons with Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen in Buffalo. It only took Hodgins a few weeks to really get going in the Giants offense, as he caught a touchdown pass in four of the last five games heading into Week 18. The 24-year-old had the best game of his career against the Vikings in Week 16, catching eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown while going up against Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson.

"Isaiah is one of those guys that really is very dependable," said the offensive coordinator. "He's a tough kid. He can play multiple spots – inside and outside, so he has some flexibility within the offense. I think he's just like a lot of those guys in that room, he's gained the trust of Daniel and they have a really good thing going right now. We'll keep continuing to build that…

"I think Isaiah, he's a competitive football player. I don't think it was necessarily for that game specially. You see it on tape, he competes versus all corners and linebackers and safeties, in the run game. He's just a competitive player."

4. Limiting Justin Jefferson

Martindale and the Giants defense went into the Christmas Eve matchup with the goal of limiting All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The 23-year-old receiver, whom Martindale has described as "a top two receiver in the league, and he isn't two," finished the game with 12 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown, including the 17-yard reception to set up Joseph's game-winning field goal.

Jefferson ended the year as the NFL's top receiver with a whopping 128 receptions for 1,809 yards. He had eight receiving touchdowns, with an additional score on the ground, on his way to earning his third Pro Bowl selection in as many seasons. He appears to be well on his way to his third All-Pro selection, as well. While Jefferson will remain the defense's focus on Sunday, Martindale maintained realistic expectations for containing the super talented receiver.

"Great players make great plays and 18 made a great play, he made two of them…" said the defensive coordinator. "Let's make no mistake about it, you can't take away 18. You try to limit him, but you can't take away from him. I think I said it the last time, he's one of the top two receivers and he's not number two in this league. It's going to be a great challenge."

The defense would get a significant boost if top cornerback Adoree' Jackson is able to return for Sunday's game. Jackson has been sidelined with a knee injury since Week 11, but the veteran has been able to participate at practice in limited fashion over the last two weeks. Jackson's return would go a long way in helping the defense contain Jefferson.

"I think he feels good," Brian Daboll said about Jackson before practice Thursday. "I think it'll be another important day for him. Again, encouraged, hopeful. But I think we've got to go through these next two days. But I've seen progress."

5. Scouting Peterson, Smith & Vikings defense

While a lot of the attention revolving the Vikings leans towards their offense, their defense cannot be overlooked. After a couple of average seasons, eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson has returned to his old self this year. Starting all 17 games, Peterson has registered five interceptions and 15 pass breakups, both of which are the most he's had in a season since 2012, just his second year in the NFL. The 32-year-old, who had one of those interceptions against the Giants on Christmas Eve, has a passer rating allowed of just 66.8.

"He's a talented player, probably going to be a Hall of Famer and All-Pro, perennial All-Pro, all over the field," Kafka said about the 12-year veteran. "He makes plays. He's a smart, instinctive player so we have to be smart with what we do and make sure our guys are detailed with what things we want to present that defense."

The Vikings defense also boasts one of the top edge rusher duos in the league in Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter. Smith picked up 10 sacks and 24 quarterback hits in 16 games this season, while Hunter registered 10.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits in 17 games. In the first meeting between the two teams, Hunter had two sacks and four quarterback hits while Smith added three quarterback hits. According to Kafka, keeping a close eye on both pass rushers will be one of the offense's top priorities this weekend.

"You got to know where he's at every single play," the offensive coordinator said about Smith. "Between him and Danielle Hunter. Those guys are talented edge rushers production-wise. They do a good job in the run game as well. You got to know where those guys are at on every single snap."

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