Brian Daboll's Giants showcase gritty identity in playoff win over Vikings

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll reacts after a play against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll reacts after a play against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. / Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Way back in September, no one was thinking these Giants would be a tough out in the playoffs. Playoffs? Ha.

But then came that Sunday opener against Tennessee, a game in which Brian Daboll perhaps created the Giants’ identity. Or at least showcased their hard-nosed persona to the rest of the football world. Daboll’s Giants won late after going for two on the road. It was daring and aggressive and it worked. The DNA strands from that game threaded through the entire Big Blue season and they were certainly evident in Sunday’s mammoth Wild Card playoff victory over Minnesota.

The No. 6 Giants beat the third-seeded Vikings, 31-24, at U.S. Bank Stadium, advancing to a Divisional Round date next week with the Philadelphia Eagles. Along the way, the Giants offered more examples of who they are now – an unafraid bunch mostly playing smart football. And a team that’s exceptionally dangerous in one-score games.

“We’re the type of team you have to beat,” Saquon Barkley told reporters in Minneapolis.

“We’ve been that way all year,” added Daniel Jones, who had a huge day. “I think we’re a tough, competitive group. We’ve played in a lot of close games and found ways to win them.

“That resiliency and mental toughness, that’s a big part of our team.”

It wasn’t so long ago that the Giants were marked – under a different regime, of course – by folding in games when they faced adversity. Remember that horrid sequence one week, trailing and mired deep in their own zone… Oh, let’s not revisit that.

Now, though, every possession seems to offer examples of their grit. Here’s just one: On a jet sweep the Vikings sniffed out Sunday, backup back Matt Breida broke three tackles in about a three-yard span, turning a blown-up play headed for negative yardage to a conversion of a third-and-one.

On the fourth-quarter drive in which the Giants scored the touchdown that would give them the eventual margin of victory, Daboll was daring, going for it on fourth-and-one from the six-yard line instead of kicking an easy field goal that would’ve given them the lead. Jones powered ahead on a sneak, absorbing a hard hit from Eric Kendricks, to get the first down. Two plays later, Barkley carried and smashed into ex-teammate Dalvin Tomlinson, a 325-pound defensive lineman, but would not go down. Even with Tomlinson on him, Barkley moved left and was able to stay up long enough to get into the end zone.

“That,” Jones said, “was an impressive run. He wasn’t going to be denied.”

The touchdown gave the Giants a seven-point advantage with 7:47 left. To get even again, the Vikings would have to play the whole field. They couldn’t. Their second-to-last possession was a three-and-out and their final one ended when Xavier McKinney tackled T.J. Hockenson shy of a first down on fourth-and-eight.

The Giants scrap for every yard, a key element for a team that likely doesn’t have as much raw talent as its opponent on any given Sunday. Yet the Giants have been in almost every single game they’ve played this season, including the regular-season finale when they rested regulars against the top-seeded Eagles and then only fell by six points.

Daboll clearly knew what he was doing – Barkley, for instance, did not play in that game and looked fresh on Sunday, rolling up 109 scrimmage yards and two scores. Jones didn’t play that day either, and he was Sunday’s star, throwing for 301 yards and running for 78 more. The Giants aren’t afraid to put the ball in Jones’ hands, running or passing.

On defense, the Giants had trouble with Hockenson, at least until that final play, but they made huge strides against Justin Jefferson. Jefferson, the NFL’s top wide receiver, had shredded them for 12 catches, 133 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season meeting between the teams. But thanks to the return of cornerback Adoree’ Jackson on Sunday, Jefferson had only seven catches for 47 yards.

It was a big reason why the Giants were able to beat the Vikings, who had shown plenty of their own toughness during the season. Minnesota authored the NFL’s greatest comeback, rallying from 33 points down to beat the Colts, and the Vikes were 11-0 in one-score games this year.

But they’re 11-1 now. And they’re not advancing. Daboll’s fearless Giants are.

“Got a lot of work to do,” Daboll said afterward. “It’s enjoyable to be able to be working at this time of year.”