The New York Giants on Sunday won their first playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5, 2012. In Brian Daboll’s inaugural season - a year that was perceived as a “rebuild” - New York upset the 13-4 Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium by a score of 31-24.
Daboll and Mike Kafka approached the game with a similar mindset to their Week 16 loss against Minnesota, with one major adjustment. The coaching duo leveraged quarterback Daniel Jones’ ability to operate the quick passing attack; only this time, Jones’ rushing ability was a bigger part of the game plan.
Jones only had four rushes for 34 yards, all via scrambling on Christmas Eve. Jones carried the football 17 times for 78 yards in the Wildcard win. He nearly doubled Saquon Barkley’s carry count with some designed quarterback runs.
Isaiah Hodgins continued to demonstrate his true NFL skill set, albeit he doesn’t need the validation. He’s much more than just a practice squad-level player, and the Giants found a midseason steal.
The defense struggled for much of the game but solidified when it mattered most. A dubious - to be polite - roughing the passer penalty against Dexter Lawrence didn’t deter the Giants from achieving a much-needed stop five plays later. But, for fun, here’s that egregious call:
This is a wild roughing the passer call late in the fourth quarter on what would have been a 3rd & 4 pic.twitter.com/dN5J6EVOYl— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) January 16, 2023
The dubious roughing the passer call would eventually lead the Vikings to a fourth-and-eight where Wink Martindale tasked safety Xavier McKinney to man-cover T.J. Hockenson, who had ten catches for 129 yards on eleven targets.
Xavier McKinney with the play of his life makes the stop and the ball turns over on downs! pic.twitter.com/wnmrjHrCOz— Bama NFL (@TheBamaNFL) January 16, 2023
McKinney did not play in the Christmas Eve loss, but his presence was certainly felt in the Wildcard win.
The Giants failed to sack Kirk Cousins in the game but outgained the Vikings by 99 yards with a 33:36 to 26:34 time-of-possession advantage. There were several critical plays, or sequences of plays, throughout the game. Here are five of the more important ones.
Play(s) 1: Daniel Jones “that’s my quarterback”
Tom Pelissaro was interviewing Jones after the game when Jaylon Smith - before he donned a big hat labeled “HIM” - interrupted the interview and hugged Jones stating - “that’s my quarterback! The love and admiration for Jones is warranted; he picked the best time to play his best professional game.
Jones threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns while adding 17 carries for 78 yards. Star running back Saquon Barkley only had nine carries in the game. Jones was the catalyst to victory for Big Blue, and his comfortability in this offense is conspicuous. Here are his two touchdown passes:
Isaiah Hodgins (18) gets inside of the safety on the post route that goes for a touchdown. Great timing and throw from Jones to Hodgins from the boundary stack.
The Giants used a lot of play-action bootlegs throughout the season, especially before the bye week. Kafka dialed up a well-timed 12-personnel play-action fake, sold well by Jones, to Daniel Bellinger (82) for a touchdown.
Play(s) 2: Saquon Barkley — welcome to the playoffs!
Saquon Barkley, welcome to the playoffs!!pic.twitter.com/w1fecLuLmo— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 15, 2023
Saquon Barkley ran into the end zone untouched for a 28-yard touchdown.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 15, 2023
The Giants have averaged 1.7 yards before contact on designed runs to the left this season (2nd in NFL, including playoffs).#NYGvsMIN | #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/AaAVOAgPaG
As Dov Kleiman stated, welcome to the playoffs, Saquon Barkley! The Giants star running back was not the focal point of Mike Kafka’s approach, but he rushed for two important touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry on nine carries. Barkley also caught five of six passes for 56 yards. The blocking was excellent for Barkley, and he did a great job sifting through the traffic, but his second touchdown may have been even more impressive:
Saquon Barkley is a TANK pic.twitter.com/NUPuiAfRAt— Bussin' With The Boys (@BussinWTB) January 16, 2023
To conclude a 12-play, 75-yard drive, Barkley scored on a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. However, former New York Giant Dalvin Tomlinson met Barkley at the line of scrimmage; Tomlinson is one of the best run-defending interior defensive linemen in the league, and he has over 70 pounds on Barkley. Still, the low man won, and Barkley ran through Tomlinson for the touchdown.
Play(s) 3: Isaiah Hodgins’ catch
This may not be the most pivotal play in the football game, but it’s an incredible throw and catch. With Jones rolling to his left, Hodgins, from a boundary stack, ran a deep corner route on second-and-ten with the score tied. On the previous play, Jones couldn’t connect with Darius Slayton deep, but the Giants still placed faith in Jones on a second-and-long near the fringes of field goal range.
Jones and Hodgins make unreal plays for a 19-yard gain. Saquon Barkley would score his second touchdown on this drive, but not after the Giants decided to forgo a field goal attempt on fourth-and-one at the Vikings' seven-yard line. The mentality to go for it and seize the day is a persona that Daboll has embodied throughout the season - Avenged Sevenfold would be proud.
Instead of going up 27-24, the Giants converted the fourth-and-one, and Barkley ran through Davlin Tomlinson a few plays later. Daboll showed confidence in his offense, and they did not let him down in a clutch moment during the biggest game of the season.
Play(s) 4: Tony Jefferson’s fingertips
The sequence of plays on the third to last Vikings’ offensive drive directly after a fourth-and-two conversion to T.J. Hockenson proved to be crucial to the Giants’ victory in a variety of ways. Here’s the first-and-ten:
The Vikings ran an under-center 11-personnel HB screen to Dalvin Cook (4). It behooves the Vikings to utilize their talented running back as a receiver, but the play was diagnosed very well by Darnay Holmes (30), who had a very underrated game. Holmes has his issues, but he’s very adept at coming downhill in these types of situations, and he’s a smart football player. This play put the Vikings behind the eight-ball in a second-and-thirteen, where Cousins went back to Cook:
Jefferson’s grip strength on an untucked Dalvin Cook jersey may have won the Giants the football game. It’s difficult to see from this angle, but Greg Olsen and Kevin Burkhardt stated that Cook may have had an easy path to the end zone if he had kept his balance. Jefferson swung the running back around, and the momentum put him on the ground to set up a third-and-thirteen. Not a great look for untucked shirts; Chris Riccobono would be upset (jokes).
Tony Jefferson (36) and Xavier McKinney (29) held Hockenson (87) from converting for a first down, despite the initial call indicating that Hockenson converted. Kevin O’Connell was going to go for the fourth-and-short conversion, but a Christian Darrisaw false start forced Minnesota to opt for the field goal, tying the game at 24. A conversion in that situation could have changed the outcome of the game.
Play(s) 5: 20-play, 85-yard drive
The Giants had several long drives (three of nine plays or more), but none longer than their third offensive drive of the game. The Giants possessed the football for ten minutes and fifty-two seconds on possession; the importance of allowing the defense to rest while keeping Justin Jefferson on the sideline can not be overstated.
However, the Giants only netted a field goal from the drive, which is less than ideal, to be kind. But the drive sparked confidence in the Giants as they converted the four third downs above.
One of my keys to the game for a Giants victory was a more efficient offense on third down. New York converted three of eleven attempts in the Christmas Eve matchup; in the playoff, the Giants were seven of 13, and Daniel Jones’ rushing ability was a key factor in their success.
Thirty-seven of Jones’ 78 rushing yards were achieved on the drive. An illegal shift negated what would have been a Jones’ rushing touchdown, and we had the privilege of witnessing a creative Statue of Liberty rush to Matt Breida, who saw the field often in the Giants’ PONY 12 personnel package.
New York was also two for two on fourth-down conversions. They converted their lone fourth-down drive for a touchdown in Week 16, a 27-yard rush by Barkley. Is scoring only three points a disappointment after such an impressive drive - absolutely - but there is importance in wearing down an already suspect defense while giving your young offense confidence in a critical game.