Giants prove their mettle as they ‘dig deep’ for playoff-like win
You have to be tough-minded to survive and thrive at this time of year in the NFL.
Particularly on the road.
The Giants exemplified and amplified both of those traits in their tense 20-12 win over the Commanders on Sunday night in Daniel Snyder’s outdated eyesore of a stadium on the outskirts of Washington.
The Giants entered the night teetering on the edge of crisis, with their stunning 6-1 start to the season having melted to 7-5-1. They were 0-3-1 since a home win over the lowly Texans on Nov. 13 and starved for a victory.
This was a playoff game for the Giants a month before the actual tournament is to begin. A loss would have left them 0-4-1 in the NFC East and, most importantly, on the wrong side of playoff tiebreaker with the Commanders.
The win, according to the “Football Outsiders’’ analytic formula, gave the Giants a 90 percent chance of earning a wild-card playoff berth and a first invite to the postseason since the 2016 season, as well as the huge tiebreaker edge on Washington.
So, the Giants needed something — anything — to spark them.
And they got a lot of it, beginning with a surprise pep talk from rookie defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux minutes before kickoff.
“This was a game that we knew you had a dig deep,’’ Thibodeaux said after making one of the biggest plays of the game when he strip-sacked Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, recovered it and scored the Giants’ first TD.
Head coach Brian Daboll, after the game, steadfastly stuck to his even-keel mantra and refused to buy into that 90 percent talk about a playoff berth.
“I don’t believe in riding roller coasters in this league,’’ Daboll said. “I did it early in my career, and it doesn’t help anybody. The only thing you can control is what’s right in front of you.’’
Well, what was in front of the Giants on Sunday night was the need to be the toughest-minded team. And they accomplished that — both on the field with the players and on the sideline with the coaches.
After a spotty first quarter in which they were dominated by Washington, the Giants got the “grand slam’’ from Thibodeaux, who tomahawked Heinicke in Lawrence Taylor-style from behind and gave his team a 7-3 lead fewer than two minutes into the second quarter.
It was the first defensive touchdown of the year for the Giants, and it ignited the entire team.
“It was an incredible play,’’ said Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
When Thibodeaux was asked during the week if he likes playing in prime time, he declared with a smile: “Prime time likes me.”
“He gave us a lot of juice,’’ Daboll said. “That play that he made down there changed the tide a little it in the early part of the game.’’
If the Thibodeaux play didn’t convince you of toughness on the part of the Giants, then their monster 18-play, 97-yard scoring drive that swallowed 8:35 off the clock should have.
The linchpin play to the possession was a fourth-and-9 that Daboll opted to go for, and it resulted in a Jones 11-yard completion to Richie James from the Washington 35-yard line kept the drive alive. Running back Saquon Barkley, on a direct snap, capped that drive when he scored from 3 yards out for a 14-3 Giants halftime lead.
Want more toughness?
How about defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence with a sack of Heinicke and forced fumble with Washington in the red zone and trailing by only five points? Leonard Williams recovered the fumble at the Giants 14-yard line with 6:06 remaining in the game.
How about Barkley, who’d been bottled up for the first three-plus quarters with just 39 yards on 12 carries?
After the Giants took the ball over on the Lawrence strip-sack, Barkley ran for 48 yards on six carries to put them in position for a Graham Gano 50-yard field goal and a 20-12 lead with 1:55 remaining.
Asked what he saw of Barkley on that drive, the even-keeled Daboll gushed, “I saw an explosive, downhill, powerful runner, and I was proud as heck of the kid.’’
The final display of toughness came on the final play of the game — fourth-and-the-game for the Commanders from the Giants’ 6-yard line. Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes broke up a Heinicke pass to Curtis Samuel in the end zone to cement the victory with 48 seconds remaining.
In the end, on a night the Giants had to have this victory, they were the most tough-minded of the two teams on the field.
The toughest-minded survived and moved significantly closer to that precious playoff berth that the head coach wants no part of talking about.
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