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Xavier McKinney earns Giants redemption with game-sealing tackle

MINNEAPOLIS — Xavier McKinney was all alone on the Vikings’ final play, a fitting predicament for the Giants safety who felt, well, all alone after he busted up his left hand during his bye-week misadventure on an ATV ride in Cabo.

McKinney missed seven games, and imperiled the Giants’ season in the process.

“I felt like I let my team down,” he said Sunday night.

And now he had this incredible pressure-packed chance to lift his team up, and advance the Giants into the second round of the playoffs. Minnesota was facing a fourth-and-8 from its own 48 with under two minutes to play, and Kirk Cousins looked to the right flat for his Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, a 6-foot-5, 248-pound raging bull of a man.

“I didn’t realize how strong he was,” said the 6-foot, 201-pound McKinney, “because he got out of some of my tackles earlier in the game. He’s physical as hell. I didn’t realize that.”

Xavier McKinney brings down the Vikings' T.J. Hockenson on fourth down late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, sealing victory for the Giants.
Xavier McKinney brings down the Vikings’ T.J. Hockenson on fourth down late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, sealing victory for the Giants.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

But this time McKinney was prepared for everything and anything that the tight end could throw at him. For some inexplicable reason, Cousins threw well short of the first-down marker, hitting Hockenson at the Giants 49. McKinney immediately hit him and drove him back across midfield and threw the tight end out of bounds to effectively seal the Giants’ 31-24 upset victory.

“For me, I was just trying to make the tackle,” McKinney said. “I got him wrapped and I was able to get him to the ground.

“No chance I was missing that.”

Though Hockenson had a big game (10 catches, 129 yards), the Giants’ secondary came up bigger by keeping Cousins south of 300 passing yards (273) and by holding all-world receiver Justin Jefferson to 47 yards on seven catches, with no touchdowns.

But after a third-down drop by Darius Slayton, the Giants’ season came down to a final Minnesota drive that was aided by Dexter Lawrence’s roughing-the-passer penalty. Before Cousins’ fourth-down pass, McKinney knew he was one-on-one with Hockenson. He knew this isolated battle could be a moment defined by redemptive possibilities.

NFL playoff bracket
NY Post Illustration

After returning from his bye-week accident, McKinney said that the accident happened on a sight-seeing tour, and that his off-road vehicle had tilted over and fallen on his hand.

“It was nothing that was reckless,” he said.

And yet he knew the impact his absence could have on the Giants’ chances of making the playoffs. He returned for the blowout of the Colts that sent the Giants to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

“I know how much time I missed,” he said. “I know I missed a lot of valuable time and it hurt my team. For me, right now, we’re in big-time situations, so players have to show up and make plays. I was able to make that play.

“Obviously I was going to work regardless to get back [from the injury], but there was a lot more sense of urgency to come back. I wanted to be there for my team, and get back out there on the field with them. And I was able to do that. I’m blessed.”

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