This wasn’t the troublemaker Kelly Leak out there catching passes, and this wasn’t Amanda Wurlitzer throwing touchdowns, and this wasn’t hot-headed Tanner Boyle drilling a long, long field goal. And it definitely wasn’t the cranky Morris Buttermaker directing the home side from the sidelines.
The Giants didn’t have Saturday against a few, well, a few…
“We didn’t play the Bad News Bears,” receiver Darius Slayton said. “That’s possibly the two-seed in the NFC. They have a lot of good players. I definitely don’t think it changes our perspective on our team. We know we have a good team, we just need to play a few more games to win the game.”
Yes, the Giants didn’t win their Week 16 matchup against the Vikings and were sent home on the wrong end of a 27-24 loss at US Bank Stadium that delayed a playoff victory celebration by at least eight days. The Giants did more offense on that loss than they have on multiple wins this season, which has been both encouraging and frustrating for them. They had two touchdowns and Graham Gano had three field goals, and that’s more than usual for a team that’s too often challenged to get a good drive, and then another, and then another.
The 445 yards the Giants gained on the fast indoor surface against the Vikings’ yielding and suspect defensive backfield was their highest total in more than a calendar year. The 319 net passing yards was her second-highest total of the season. Unlike the 324 net yards Daniel Jones rushed for the Lions in Week 11, the Giants weren’t in full comeback mode the entire second half this time – they actually led 13-10 after three quarters.
Jones completed a career-high 30 passes. Three Giants — Saquon Barkley, Isaiah Hodgins and Richie James — had eight receptions, and having two of them, Hodgins and James, are wide receivers makes it a rarity for a team that’s been without theirs this season for one reason or another traversed has projected top 4 targets: Sterling Shepard (injured), Kadarius Toney (traded), Kenny Golladay (ineffective) and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson (injured). That the Giants had the three longest receptions this game – James at 33 yards, Slayton at 32 yards and Hodgins at 29 yards – with super talent Justin Jefferson and proven Adam Thielen on the field for the Vikings is by no means a statistical feat would have expected.
“I think we had a good plan and some things to attack what they were doing and I thought the guys got up and made a few games for us,” Jones said. “Offensive Line played great. Saquon played great. Receivers also made some big games.”
If the Giants (8-6-1) beat the Colts (4-9-1 ahead of Monday night’s game against the Chargers) next Sunday, they will have a pivotal moment in the playoffs at MetLife Stadium as the Giants have no help need to make it into the postseason for the first time since 2016. The Giants may not need an offensive show of might to get the job done. However, if they want to be more than a one-and-done team in the NFC tournament, they likely need to move the ball like they did in Minneapolis and also limit the errors that have kept their score low and deprived they ultimately agitated the now 12-3 Vikings.
There was an interception thrown by Jones as he threw himself slightly behind Hodgins and was picked up by Patrick Peterson – after the unheralded Hodgins had beaten the announced Peterson for most of the game. There was a fumble from rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger as the Giants neared the red zone. There was a costly third relegation from James who otherwise played a strong game. There were penalties against left guard Nick Gates and center Jon Feliciano for jeopardizing possession.
“I think we’ve been moving the ball up and down the field all day,” center Jon Feliciano said. “We really shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and ball losses. They caused the sales, so I’m not trying to take anything from them. We just can’t turn the ball around and have a lot of penalties.”
The Giants on offense saved their best for last. Jones was down 24-16 with three minutes to go and hit Slayton for 32 yards to breathe life into a desperate drive. Barkley capped it off by finding a track down the middle and taking advantage of a gap in the Vikings’ defense on a 27-yard touchdown burst to put the Giants within 24-22 at 2:01. The vital two-point conversion play prompted Jones to roll to the right and locate one of his targets. He did so and showed great patience before delivering the ball into the back end zone where Bellinger was there to level the game.
“We get a good little movement with our receivers and try to box on the right side so DJ has options,” Bellinger said. “I was just trying to get lost behind the fuses. I think DJ just hit a really good shot. It felt like he had been up there for an hour.”
The Giants players on offense can look back and wonder what would have happened if the game had gone into overtime. Kirk Cousins found Jefferson for 17 yards with a third-down throw that, when time ran out, led to Greg Joseph’s 61-yard field goal, which won the game. Jones and the rest of the offense will have to wait a week to see if there’s any spillover effect with the good signs they’ve been showing in Minnesota.