MINNEAPOLIS — The Super Bowl is in play now as a reachable, honest-to-God goal. If you are a Giants fan, nothing has ever sounded so completely crazy and perfectly reasonable at the same time.
It’s crazy because this franchise is supposed to be in the first hours of a rebuild with a rookie head coach and a rookie general manager and a roster that was seemingly littered with more potholes than the Cross Bronx Expressway.
It’s reasonable because the Giants just beat a 13-4 team in its own building in the first round of the playoffs, setting up a rematch with the top-seeded Eagles in Philadelphia, where the home team struggled to beat the Giants’ walk-ons last week.
This 31-24 victory over the Vikings advanced the sixth seed to Round 2, and sure, the Eagles are expected to win that one. But a lot of things that are expected to happen in the NFL — like the Giants going 5-12 this year — never come to pass. Ask the Vikings about that on Monday while they are busy packing up their gear and planning their getaways to a distant golf course or beach.
The Giants are getting better and better, a prerequisite for a deep postseason run. Back in the day, nobody thought the 2007 Giants were going to the Super Bowl, even after they effectively played the 15-0 Patriots to a draw at the end of the regular season.
But they kept getting better and better, and ultimately knocked out the 13-3 Cowboys on their field. In Texas Stadium that day, hours after Peyton Manning and the 13-3 defending-champion Colts had been eliminated from the playoffs, the Manning matriarch, Olivia, had this to say to a couple of scribes:
“I have a heavy heart for Peyton, but I’m proud of Eli.”
The same Eli Manning who had been pounded by critics in his first three years about as much as Daniel Jones would get pounded in his first three. Archie Manning would later say that he didn’t know who would get run out the New York market first, his son or Tom Coughlin.
Together Eli and Coughlin shocked the world and the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl, a victory co-owner John Mara called the greatest in franchise history. Fifteen years later, is it likely that the Giants of Jones and Saquon Barkley and Brian Daboll, the league’s Rookie of the Year, will author an even wilder story than that one?
No, it’s not. And yet this team is growing in confidence, and represents a threat to the Eagles. Maybe the Giants can survive that test. Maybe they will catch a lucky break in the form of a Dallas/Tampa Bay upset of San Francisco. Or maybe the Giants can actually beat the 49ers on the road in a violent NFC title game, just like they did 11 years ago.
For now, the 2022 Giants have to be taken seriously as a contender to reach the Super Bowl. And that’s about as improbable a statement as has been made about this franchise in nearly a century of football.
What a strange season it has been across the board. The Giants won a grand total of one game in the NFC East — one! — and still found a way to make the playoffs, becoming the first team in more than three decades to qualify for the tournament without winning at least two divisional games.
Daboll coached his way around his 0-4 record against the Cowboys and Eagles, just like he coached his way around his players’ conspicuous limitations. He hired the right coordinators on both sides of the ball, despite having no meaningful relationship with either, and made a smart call in keeping another relative stranger, Thomas McGaughey, in charge of special teams.
Daboll also got Barkley back to being Barkley, and turned Jones into a study in efficiency, athleticism, and poise. After a decade of mostly miserable football, the Giants were supposed to win a small handful of games this year, and their rookie coach ripped off a 9-7-1 record. What fan in his or her right mind would’ve ever believed that their team would advance to the postseason and, on the way there, rest the likes of Isaiah Hodgins in the final regular-season game?
As it turned out Sunday, that virtual week off in Philly didn’t do anything to slow the Giants’ momentum. They treated the Vikings’ defense like the scout unit that it is, ripping off back-to-back touchdown drives with lightning speed, traveling 166 net yards on nine plays to take a 14-7 lead. The Giants were averaging 18.4 yards per play. Almost overnight, they had become The Greatest Show on Turf.
Jones was running all over the place, gaining 71 yards on 10 carries and leaving the Barkley-inspired nickname “Vanilla Vick” trending on Twitter. The home team had no answers for anything the Giants did across the first 30 minutes. On top of those two walk-in-the-park TD drives, the sixth seed grinded out a 20-play, 85-yard drive that ended in a field goal and took nearly 11 minutes off the clock.
The Giants didn’t let up in the second half. They didn’t just hold onto the lead here in Minnesota. They held onto the belief that they can advance to the biggest stage in sports.
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