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Giants-Vikings ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’ review: Yes, Daniel Jones and the Giants are good

Let’s review Sunday’s playoff victory in our traditional style

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
The trip was worthwhile for Giants fans who traveled to Minnesota.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have won a playoff game for the first time since they won the 2011 Super Bowl, taking care of that piece of bookkeeping with an inspiring 31-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in the Wild-Card Round of the 2023 NFC playoffs.

Let’s get to the ‘Kudos & Wet Willies.’ There is a lot to talk about.

Kudos to ...

Daniel Jones — The quarterback was the single biggest reason the Giants won on Sunday. A stat line of 24 of 35 for 301 yards and two touchdowns, with 78 rushing yards on 17 attempts. No turnovers. In fact, nothing even close to a turnover. Whether you believed in him prior to this or not, you have to acknowledge him.

In his fourth season, the Giants finally gave Jones elite coaching and at least competent players around him. Given those things, he has proven co-owner John Mara and former GM Dave Gettleman right.

Isaiah Hodgins — Umm, this guy is definitely not a practice squad player. Hodgins had an eight-catch, 105-yard, one touchdown night. He had a brilliant, toe-tapping, 26-yard catch to help set up the Giants’ game-winning touchdown. He also had the best Instagram decision of the night. GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll knew Hodgins could be more than he had a chance to show in Buffalo, and pounced when he became available on waivers. Let’s just say that goes in the ‘good decision’ category.

Saquon Barkley — The Giants’ star running back mostly took a back seat and watched the ‘Daniel Jones Show’ on Sunday, with just nine carries and five receptions. When the Giants needed him, though, Barkley delivered. A 28-yard touchdown run. A 2-yard touchdown where he simply bulled his way into the end zone, dragging 325-pound Minnesota defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson with him. He finished with 109 total yards.

Dexter Lawrence — The big defensive tackle was a wrecking ball. He had six tackles (one four loss), four quarterback hits and I have no idea how many times he basically bowled over Minnesota center Garrett Bradbury. To be honest, I felt a little bad for Bradbury who spent much of the night getting rudely shoved backwards. The roughing the pass call against Lawrence was dubious, at best.

Xavier McKinney — The safety made the game-ending play, tackling T.J. Hockenson short of a first down on fourth-and-8 with 1:44 to play, sealing the Giants’ victory. For whatever it’s worth, he also had eight tackles and a pass defensed.

Giants’ coverage of Justin Jefferson — When the Vikings’ star receiver hauled in four catches on Minnesota’s opening touchdown drive, it looked like Jefferson was headed for a game similar to his 12-catch, 133-yard, one touchdown effort vs. the Giants in Week 16.


Jefferson caught only three more passes the rest of the night, just one in the second half. He finished with seven catches for just 47 yards. That’s an average of only 6.7 yards per catch, with his longest grab of the night being 10 yards.

The return of cornerback Adoree’ Jackson had something to do with it. So, too, did the presence of McKinney. A fantastic plan by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, bracketing Jefferson all night while appearing to use more zone coverage and fewer blitzes than he normally would also had something to do with it.

What it came down to was the Giants did not let Minnesota’s best player beat them.

Brian Daboll — The first-year head coach has proven again and again this season that he is the right man for the job. From the beginning, Daboll’s tough love helped finally get Jones’ career off the ground. The dividends of that paid off Sunday.

Daboll has shown belief in his players from the beginning, a departure from the prior coaching staff. He started the regular season with a throw caution to the wind decision to go for two points in the final minutes of a 21-20 win over the Tennessee Titans. Sunday, he went for the first down twice on fourth-and-1 in the closing minutes, including from the Giants’ 45-yard line while protecting a 7-point lead with 3:28 to play. Both plays succeeded.

“We were going after it. We were going to go try to win a game,” Daboll said. “We have confidence in Daniel moving the pile, and not going to live with the consequences.”

[NOTE: Daboll did use the word ‘not’ there, but I’d guess he meant “going to” rather than “not going to.”]

Mike Kafka — The guts of the Giants’ offense might be Daboll’s playbook. It is Kafka, though, who orchestrates the offense. He has done a brilliant job.

Kafka has done a tremendous job adding his own wrinkles to the offense, and sifting through the playbook to find what works for the personnel the Giants have.

“We have had some of our better games recently and found some stuff that works for us, so we’ll keep doing it,” Jones said. “I thought the coaching staff did a great job having us prepared and having a lot of stuff in the plan that we were able to execute well. So credit to them.”

We have often pointed out how Martindale is so good at creating free runners to pressure quarterbacks. On the offensive side, Kafka does a marvelous job creating free receivers, and thus easy throws for Jones. He uses formation, motion and route concept to create traffic and thus opportunity for Giants’ receivers to find open space. Via Next Gen Stats, here is a look at the Giants’ receiver separation from Sunday night:

Kafka is drawing interest for head-coaching vacancies. He has interviews upcoming with the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers. Whether it happens this hiring cycle or not, it is inevitable that the Giants lose the offensive coordinator.

He is coaching his way into a chance to run his own show.

Expedited replay review — I did not count how many times on Sunday evening the use of expedited replay review both got calls correct and — more importantly to me — did so without interminable waits that disrupted the flow of a tremendous football game. It saved challenges, corrected mistakes and moved the game along.

Kenny Golladay/Matt Breida/Cor’Dale Flott/Dane Belton — I am putting all of these players together into one group ‘Kudos’ for a reason. They are all bit players who made contributions in limited roles on Sunday — emblematic of how the Giants have gotten contributions from so many unexpected places during this surprisingly successful season.

Breida had just three carries for 8 yards on Sunday. He did, though, have a fantastic solo effort on a third-quarter jet sweep, getting a first down completely on his own when he should have been tackled for a loss.

Flott played just three snaps, but contributed a critical pass breakup to set up the game-clinching fourth-and-8 stop.

Belton, largely forgotten in recent weeks, played just 10 snaps but contributed a pair of tackles.

It was Golladay, though, who was getting attention after the game. He played just four snaps and was never targeted, but his pancake block of Duke Shelley on a swing pass to Barkley was a self-less, winning play from a guy who doesn’t have to do that. He has made his money and he knows he isn’t likely to be a Giant next season, but to his credit he went all-out (maybe all-in?) for his teammates.

Daboll couldn’t wait to talk about it in the post-game.

“Kenny Golladay – did you see that block?,” Daboll said. “Everything is team. It’s all about our team. It’s not an individual sport. But individuals have to play well and when they get their opportunity, they have to make the most of it, whether it’s five plays, 70 plays, you know, coach, player, trainer. We’ve all got jobs to do and I expect those guys from their work ethic, their commitment to the team to go out there and give it their all.”

Golladay — and several other players — did just that. They deserve to be recognized for it.

Wet Willies to ...

Roughing the passer? — This is roughing the passer?

Thank goodness this bit of overzealous quarterback protecting did not cost the Giants a victory they earned. I don’t like pointing out officiating mistakes, but I don’t blame Daboll for going ballistic on this one. As much as the NFL wants to protect its prized quarterbacks, a flag on this play is the latest illustration of how that pendulum has swung way too far.

Kwillies to ...

Darius Slayton — Slayton made several big plays on Sunday. He had catches for 47 and 22 yards. He finished with four receptions for 88 yards. Slayton, though, almost cost the Giants their first playoff victory in more than a decade with a terrible drop. On a third-and-15 with 3:07 left, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka schemed up a route combination that left Slayton wide open — so open he was probably going to end up gaining 20 yards or more and sealing a Giants’ victory.

But, he couldn’t catch the ball. That’s the killer bugaboo with Slayton. Game-breaking ability, but he just doesn’t catch the ball consistently enough. He has now eight of 79 targets this season, career-worst 10.1 percent.

I know many Giants fans flashed back to the Evan Engram drop against the Philadelphia Eagles a couple of years ago. If the Giants move on from Slayton it will be for a similar reason they moved on from Engram — reliability.