The New York Giants escaped FedEx Field with a crucial 20-12 victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday. The two teams battled to a Week 13 tie two weeks ago, but it was the Giants who significantly improved their playoff odds with this victory.
The Giants now have an 88 percent chance of making the playoffs, whereas Washington has a 38 percent chance. If the Giants were to lose this game, their chances of making the playoffs would have dropped to 31 percent.
New York desperately needed a win, and their pass rush was the catalyst to victory; the primary spark was rookie pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who was the MVP of this game. Thibodeaux finished with twelve tackles, three for a loss, a forced fumble, a touchdown, and an important second-and-goal stop of quarterback Taylor Heinicke at the goal line that led to the turnover on downs.
Thibodeaux’s had a good rookie season. He’s done all the little things correctly, and his development is evident in every game. However, this victory over Washington may be a season-defining moment for the young 22-year-old star. It couldn't have come at a more important time.
Here are the five plays, or sequence of plays, that led to the Giants' victory.
Play(s) 1: Strip sacks
The Giants' pass rush was relentless in key spots during this Giants’ win. New York forced two sack fumbles of Taylor Heinicke; the first one was by Kayvon Thibodeaux on a second-and-18 after a holding penalty by Washington.
Thibodeaux used power to engage Charles Leno Jr. (72). He grabbed Leno Jr’s left shoulder and forced him inward while he worked outside. He quickly used a swift arm-over to break any contact after he was hip-to-hip. Thibodeaux then dipped his inside shoulder and cornered into the pocket while attacking the football to force the fumble. Just an excellent individual effort by the rookie.
Heinicke connected with rookie Jahan Dotson for 61 yards to start a late fourth-quarter drive. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous after that pass was completed. Four plays later, the Giants found themselves in this third-and-four strip-sack above. When the Giants were winning football games earlier in the season, it was this type of defensive red zone efficiency that helped propel them to victory.
The play was initially not ruled a fumble, but upon further review, the ball came out of Heinicke’s hands. Leonard Williams (99) forklifted the guard and pressed into the pocket to allow Azeez Ojulari (51) and Dexter Lawrence (97) to split the sack fumble. At this stage of the game, any points would have made a big difference for Washington.
Play(s) 2: Fourth-and-9
The Giants amassed an 18-play, 97-yard drive to score their only offensive touchdown of the game. Daniel Jones was excellent on the drive, operating the quick passing attack and finding four different options through the air. Before the bold fourth-and-nine call by the Giants at Washington’s 35-yard-line, the Giants converted on a third-and-9.
Washington had three pass-rushers in Jones’ face, but the quarterback connected with James on one of three receptions James made on this drive. Jones had to stand in the pocket and take the big hit to help move the chains. Nine plays later, the Giants found themselves in a fourth-and-nine where Brian Daboll opted to go for it.
Richie James found space in front of two defenders, and Jones delivered a perfectly placed ball away from the covering defenders to help set up the Saquon Barkley touchdown, which is below.
Saquon Barkley caps an 18-play, 97-yard drive that ends with a 3-yard touchdown. Giants up 14-3 over the Commanders in the 2nd quarter.pic.twitter.com/zdAfkch1WZ— Doug Rush (@TheDougRush) December 19, 2022
The Giants run Barkley to the closed side off Wildcat, with Daniel Jones motioning around him at the snap. Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll continue to have interesting red zone wrinkles in their playbook.
Play(s) 3: Stop at the goal line
Yes, Kayvon Thibodeaux’s name was going to be included in more than just one of these five plays. This goal line hit by Thibodeaux, who was in coverage, proved to be pivotal to the Giants' win.
Heinicke was attempting to recreate his touchdown run from the 2020 Wildcard game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jahan Dotson (1) essentially was the lead blocker, but he did not run toward Thibodeaux, who had a head of steam coming downhill toward Heinicke. Thibodeaux made the stop at the 1-yard line.
Very high-pressure moment. Just north of a minute to go in the game, a collision near the goal line, the FedEx field worker and the referee fell over in the background - just MADNESS! Thibodeaux’s high effort forced a third-and-goal that resulted in an illegal formation penalty against Washington. Two plays later, was this controversial non-call which would have gone against Darnay Holmes (30):
NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay says refs missed a DPI on Curtis Samuel:— Josh Hill (@jdavhill) December 19, 2022
“This is defensive pass interference … it’s always a foul and should have been called.” pic.twitter.com/8teYF6UBxd
Holmes has a tendency to get grabby, and grabby he got in this play. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’d want this to be called. However, the flag stayed in the referee’s belt? Pocket? Waistline? Either way, the contact was not called, and the Giants benefited from a swallowed whistle.
Play 4: Third-and-9 sack
Ryder Anderson (90) sacked Taylor Heinicke on third-and-nine to conclude Washington’s first drive that ended in a punt; the Commanders went 19-plays for 88 yards on their first two possessions and only scored three points. On their first drive, they went 10 plays, 41 yards.
This sack was not a fumble, like the other two in the game, but it was pivotal. Not only did it force Washington to punt, but it stopped Heinicke from exploiting the blown coverage down the field. On the right side of the screen, both Giants cover Logan Thomas’ (82) out route, and no one took the deep post over the top. Jason Pinnock (27), who was playing center field, was oriented toward Terry McLaurin (17) on the other side. If Heinicke had a bit more time, this play would have likely gone for a long touchdown.
Great job by Dexter Lawrence to split the double-team, as Micah McFadden (41) looped around the penetrating Tomon Fox (49). Wink Martindale loves to dial up pressure in obvious passing situations, and luckily the pressure got home on this play.
Play 5: Return of the Collins
Several plays could have earned this fifth and final spot of this synopsis. However, Landon Collins deserved a mention for this key third-and-3 stop that forced a punt in the second half.
Collins has toiled away on the practice squad and hasn’t seen the field since Week 8. His number was called against his former team, and he had several impact plays, none as crucial as the one above.
Washington opted to run because the Giants were in light personnel, a quarter package with no true inside linebackers. Collins and Darnay Holmes were in the box, and Collins did an impressive job staying square to the line of scrimmage and sticking Curtis Samuel (10) before he could reach the line to gain. Collins also had this fill on a first-and-10 earlier in the game:
This particular play didn't have a profound impact on the game, but it alludes to what Collins can offer this Giants' defense. His presence allows the Giants to run more quarter packages and not be so vulnerable against the run.
The Giants' linebackers have consistently struggled to fit the run all season. Collins is a safety, but he’s a thumper who is excellent in run support. I’m hoping we see him next Sunday, and hopefully as a full-time member of the team.