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Leonard Williams: ‘Even though we say it wasn’t a playoff game it definitely felt like one’

Williams hoping to make playoffs for first time in his career

Houston Texans v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Giants Week 15 game against the Washington Commanders was one of the biggest games in recent memory for the Giants.

The two teams were tied with identical records, and somehow both teams were meeting a week before Christmas with the playoffs (potentially) on the line. The winner of that game would gain control of their destiny and likely punch their ticket to the post season. While the Giants tried to downplay the significance of that game, it clearly wasn’t lost on the defense.

“We tried to say that it wasn’t a playoff game because obviously it wasn’t. Whether we won or lost we were going to have games after,” said defensive tackle Leonard Williams, “but at the same time it definitely felt like it. The atmosphere felt like it, the way the teams were playing, and we knew how much was at stake. Even though we say it wasn’t a playoff game it definitely felt like one.”

Williams is in his eighth season in the NFL after being selected by the New York Jets with the sixth overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. Despite all his time in the League, Williams has never been to the playoffs — and this is the closest he’s come since his very first season in the NFL.

“Yeah, we lost to Buffalo [his rookie year]. We were 10-6 that year with the Jets and the last game of the season we lost to Buffalo,” he said. “That was the closest I’ve gotten to going to the playoffs.”

With the Giants victory this past Sunday, they are firmly in control of their destiny and could even clinch a playoff spot with a win this weekend against the Minnesota Vikings. Williams certainly appreciates the opportunity.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m in year eight, it’s obviously been a long time in the league to not go to the playoffs. That’s been a very tough part of my career and it would mean a lot to me to be able to go with these guys that I’ve been grinding with for the last few years.”

That last part, about (potentially) being able to go to the playoffs with his teammates this year, gives us a glimpse into type of leader Williams has become in the Giants’ locker room.

”I’ve seen a lot of these guys here; I know a lot of these guys here now pretty well,” he said. “It’d mean a lot for me, and also a lot for me to see them go as well.

“It’s more special to go to the playoffs after you’ve been on a team like that,” he said, referencing the state of the Giants when he arrived in 2020. “I’ve never been a fan of wanting to be a vet and jump to a team that are Super Bowl contenders, almost like bandwagon jumping type of thing. It wouldn’t feel as good to me. Being on a team like this where I’ve seen the ups and downs and I’ve known these guys pretty well, I know how much of a struggle we’ve been going through and stuff like that. So, to be able to go with a team like that means a lot more to me.”

Williams has a habit of almost never coming off the field. However, he missed the first game of his career in Week 14 after suffering a neck strain in Week 13. Even so, he still played more snaps than any other Front 7 player when he returned this past week.

Williams still isn’t fully healthy, a fact he readily admits.

“I’m not 100 percent, definitely was banged up a little bit, he said. “I feel like that’s the majority of the league right now and that’s what we harp on a lot. About it being December football, we know how much of a tough person and player you have to be to keep going near the end of the season like this, because the majority of the league is banged up. It’s not an excuse, it’s not anything like that. If I’m on the field…”

Not being on the field was a novel feeling for Williams. For the first time in his NFL career, he was in street clothes while his teammates were on the field in pads.

“It definitely felt a little different. This is my first time ever being on the sideline while I’m seeing guys in pads on the field,” Williams said. “It’s definitely a weird experience, but I’ve been dealing with it, I’ve been managing it. Everybody has adversity at times and that’s been something I’ve been dealing with this year and I’m trying to make the best of my situation.”