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Giants-Commanders ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’: Lots of credit to go around after key victory

Let’s get to our traditional post-game review

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Commanders
Kayvon Thibodeaux, right, gets congratulations from teammate Jaylon Smith after Sunday’s terrific performance.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty of credit to go around for the New York Giants’ 20-12 victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday night. Let’s get to our traditional ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’ review and see who earned it.

Kudos to ...

Kayvon Thibodeaux — Great players play their best at the biggest moments. The rookie edge defender showed Sunday night that he might just end up being one with a dominant defensive performance.

His 12-tackle (three for loss) game included a strip sack/fumble recovery for a touchdown and a touchdown preventing tackle of Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke at the 1-yard line.

Many have been waiting for a game like this from Thibodeaux. He wasn’t among them.

“No, you never wait. You just keep working. It’s gonna come. That’s one thing that the vets have been imparting to me that ‘how many games have you went without a sack’ and it’s New York and the people asking how do you feel. That’s it, that’s the life. I didn’t get here because I was waiting or sitting back or wanted to see what was going to happen. I take everything that’s been given to me. I take everything that’s in front of me. There’s nothing that’s given.”

Thibodeaux was the biggest reason the Giants won on Sunday night.

Richie James — I said recently that James had developed a talent for compiling meaningless catches once games were out of hand. Not Sunday night. James had four receptions for 42 yards. On the Giants’ 97-yard touchdown drive, he had a 10-yard catch on third-and-9 and an 11-yard catch on fourth-and-9. James now leads Giants’ wide receivers with a career-best 42 receptions. He also had a 23-yard punt return.

This was a heckuva night for James.

That 97-yard drive — A thing of beauty, the best of the season by the Giants. Daniel Jones went 10 of 12 passing on the drive, converting the previously mentioned completions to James. The Giants got seven first downs. They overcame an Evan Neal false start penalty that put them in a second-and-15 situation. Jones and James made coach Brian Daboll’s choice to go for it on fourth-and-9 at the Commanders’ 35-yard line right with a terrific play. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka dusted off the Wildcat on Saquon Barkley’s 3-yard touchdown run. The Giants navigated that entire drive with four rushing yards from Barkley.

That is just about the best offense the Giants can play.

Daniel Jones — Quarterbacks are judged by their performances in big games and big moments, and Jones was about as good as he could have been Sunday night. His final stat line (21 of 32 for 160 yards and 10 rushes for 35 yards) does not do his performance justice.

Jones was masterful on that 97-yard drive. The throws to James and third-and-9 and fourth-and-9 were terrific. Jones was never sacked, but he stood in the pocket and took punishment from the Washington pass rushers when he had to. He ran with toughness when he had to, not shying away from contact.

Most of all, he protected the football. On a night when two turnovers from Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke — and a pass that should have been intercepted by Nick McCloud — made a massive difference in the game’s outcome, Jones played turnover-free football.

Count me among those who think Jones has absolutely done enough this season to return as the Giants’ quarterback next season. If you are still on the fence, or still a ‘No’ vote, I am not sure what more you need to see.

Saquon Barkley — Barkley had done little on the ground Sunday night until the Giants needed it most in the final six minutes. When the Giants needed a ball-control drive to run some clock and put points on the board after Leonard Williams recovered Heinicke’s fumble at the Giants’ 14-yard line, the Giants’ best playmaker delivered.

Barkley ripped off runs of 12, 15 and 14 yards on successive plays to help the Giants run more than four minutes off the clock and get into position for a 50-yard Graham Gano field goal that gave the Giants their eventual eight-point margin of victory.

Graham Gano — On a cold night in Landover, Md. the ever-reliable veteran kicker delivered a pair of 50-yard field goals in the second half, critical points that forced the Commanders to play for a touchdown on their final couple of possessions.

Jamie Gillan — The Giants’ punter has been inconsistent all season, but was terrific Sunday night. He punted five times for a net average of 41.8 yards, and each time he had the chance to pin the Washington offense deep in its own territory, he did so. Gillan had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

Offensive line — Against a terrific Washington defensive line, the Giants did not give up a sack and generally gave Jones time to throw. There were, of course, some pressures given up but Jones was not under the kind of duress he has often dealt with in recent weeks.

On the Giants’ final drive, they cleared space for Barkley to be Barkley and keyed a time-consuming drive that earned the Giants critical points.

Left tackle Andrew Thomas, left guards Nick Gates and Ben Bredeson, center Jon Feliciano, right guard Mark Glowinski and right tackle Evan Neal came through when the Giants needed them.

Landon Collins and Tony Jefferson — The two veteran safeties gave the Giants’ defense a different look. Collins played a true linebacker role and had three tackles in 27 snaps. Jefferson had two tackles and a pass defensed. They give the Giants athleticism they don’t otherwise have at linebacker, and both showed toughness.

Jason Pinnock — Sometimes when a player gets hurt a team really gets burned. At other times, you find out that the guy who replaces him is pretty darn good. The latter is what has happened with Pinnock replacing the injured Xavier McKinney.

Pinnock isn’t as good as McKinney, but he is an excellent player. Sunday night he had five tackles, a forced fumble and a critical third-down pass defensed that kept the Commanders out of scoring position and forced a punt. He got victimized by Jahan Dotson for a 61-yard catch, but credit Dotson with a great catch with Pinnock right there.

Dexter Lawrence and Azeez Ojulari — The duo combined to force a Heinicke fumble with Washington at the Giants’ 6-yard line and threatening to take the lead with the Giants ahead by five points and a little more than six minutes remaining.

Lawrence was a presence inside, finishing with a half-sack, three quarterback hits and the forced fumble.

Ojulari has been outstanding in three games since returning from injury. He had a half-sack, two quarterback hits, the forced fumble and four tackles on Sunday.

How exciting is it for Giants’ fans to see Thibodeax, a rookie, and Ojulari, a second-year player, terrorizing offenses off the edge?

Cade Knox and Ty Siam — Head coach Brian Daboll could not stop talking about these two on Sunday night. Siam is the Giants’ Director of Football Data & Innovation. Knox is the team’s offensive assistant/game manager.

Both communicate directly with Daboll during games. They have a great deal to do with challenges, fourth-down decisions and any other analytics-driven decisions the Giants need to make during games.

The Giants won a game-changing challenge on a Heinicki fumble initially ruled a down by contact and converted a fourth-and-9 at Washington’s 35-yard line Sunday night.

“Yeah, I’d say that again really all year I’ve mentioned these guys before, but [offensive assistant/game manager] Cade [Knox] and [director of football data and innovation] Ty [Siam], they’re really two guys that I lean on a lot during the week in terms of management, clock management, fourth-down decisions, overtime decisions,” Daboll said. “That fourth down that we went for there that was already – we knew that we would go for that in that particular situation on Wednesday after the morning meeting I had with those guys. So everyone contributed to the win. Those two guys were certainly a big part of it. Two Ivy Leaguers, so try to listen to the Ivy Leaguers.”

Darnay Holmes — Was it pass interference? Was it not pass interference? Holmes broke up Heinicke’s pass to Curtis Samuel in the end zone on Washington’s final offensive play, a fourth-and-goal from the Giants’ 6-yard line, to secure the victory.

Wet Willies to ...

Darius Slayton — The wide receiver was targeted on Jones’ first two throws, and couldn’t come up with either well-thrown pass. Were those passes officially ruled drops? I don’t know — admittedly the coverage was tight on both plays. Those, though, are plays that have to be made in big games. Slayton also had a fumble — that he did recover — while finishing with five receptions for just 23 yards, only 4.6 yards per catch.

Run defense — Even with help from Collins and Jefferson, the Giants’ run defense was, as it has been all season, predictably awful. They are fortunate it did not cost them the victory.

The Giants surrendered 159 yards rushing on 26 carries, 6.1 yards per rushing attempt. Washington rookie Brian Robinson had 12 carries for 89 yards, 7.4 yards per attempt. I would guess that Commanders’ fans and writers are wondering why the rookie running back didn’t carry the ball more often Sunday night. The Giants certainly weren’t stopping him.

Kwillies to ...

Evan Neal — The rookie right tackle was part of an offensive line that, as previously mentioned, did a lot of good things Sunday. Individually, though, the rookie’s NFL education continued as he had a difficult night against Washington’s Montez Sweat. An initial review by Pro Football Focus showed Neal allowing five total pressures. He also had two false start penalties.