While the Vikings were favored to win, they didn’t even get the full home-field advantage at -2.5 coming into the game. This was effectively a coin flip after the two teams played each other down to the wire 22 days ago. This time the coin landed Giants-side up, and the Giants were able to win the one-score game.
What can we take away from a wild wildcard win?
First down: Big 12 on Sunday
The old philosophic question is “what would win when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?”
Well, today we saw a battle between two very movable objects: The two teams’ defenses.
This game reminded me of nothing so much as a Saturday track meet between Big 12 schools, say Oklahoma State and West Virginia under Dana Holgorsen. The Giants and Vikings’ offenses took turns sprinting down the field and trading body blows with each other.
Both defenses did a couple things well. The Giants effectively silenced Justin Jefferson after the Vikings’ first drive, while the Vikings managed to sack Daniel Jones three times.
But other than that, not much defense was played. This game had 763 total yards and just five punts between the two teams. There were no turnovers despite both Julian Love and Jordan Hicks being in position to take the ball away, and neither team was able to really slow down their opponent.
In both cases, the only thing to really stop either team were their own mistakes.
Second down: Continued praise for the receivers
I have been heaping praise on Joe Schoen, Mike Kafka, and the Giants’ no-name receiving corps, and that’s continuing tonight.
Pretty much everyone had Darius Slayton cut in training camp. Nobody knew who Richie James was, and certainly nobody knew who Isaiah Hodgins was. It isn’t much of a surprise that people thought little of these guys and were clamoring for the team to add a receiver mid-season. Trade for Jerry Jeudy, sign Odell Beckham Jr.
Instead, Joe Schoen snatched Hodgins off the scrap heap and made do.
Mike Kafka switched to a spread-coast quick-game offense to play to the strengths of the players available. While the Giants pretty much exclusively advanced the ball through the air — Saquon Barkley had nine carries to eight targets and most of the Giants rushing yards came on scrambles by Jones — Kafka did an excellent job of scheming run-after-catch opportunities to exploit the Vikings’ soft coverages. Richie James stepped up with several big catches, while Hodgins made an incredible sideline grab and made key blocks on the perimeter.
They deserve game balls for their efforts tonight, and for the media at large to start treating them with some respect.
Third down: And then there’s Darius Slayton
I can’t heap praise on the receivers without talking about Slayton’s nearly-disastrous drop.
The Giants’ receivers have been damned for drops all season long, but the biggest culprit has been Slayton. Coming into this game, Isaiah Hodgins had zero drops on 42 targets, Richie James had three on 70 targets, Daniel Bellinger had one drop on 35 targets and Wan’Dale Robinson had 1 drop on 31 targets (prior to his injury).
That’s five drops on 178 targets. That’s a tiny 2 percent drop rate for the Giants’ receivers and tight end.
Slayton has had seven drops on 71 targets — which now climbs to eight drops on 79 targets, or 10.1 percent.
Darius Slayton is a weapon. His speed and explosiveness are useful for stretching the field and drawing coverage away from the underneath passes on which the Giants’ offense thrives, as well as turning short passes into big plays. But he just is not a reliable weapon.
Had he caught a pass that hit him in the hand, he could have iced the game for the Giants. Instead, he stopped the clock and gave the Vikings the chance for another come-from-behind win.
He is, frankly, lucky that K.J. Osborne had just as bad a drop in an even bigger situation. Otherwise Slayton would be the undisputed goat of the game.
Fourth down: Round three. On to Philadelphia
The Giants get to enjoy a great win on the trip back to New Jersey. They went on the road against a team that had never lost at home and never lost a one-score game this season and did enough to come away with the victory.
They have plenty to feel good about.
But they also need to turn the page quickly as they face the Philadelphia Eagles on the road for the second time in two weeks and the third time in a little over a month. The Giants will certainly try to carry their momentum into the Divisional Round, but the Eagles are a different kind of team than what the Giants saw in three of the last four weeks.
In a curious twist of fate, this will be the second time in the 2022-2023 season that the Giants have faced a division rival in what will be a back-to-back game with just a bye week in between. The players and coaches both have their work cut out for them once tonight’s revelry is over.