The Giants didn’t feel good on Christmas Eve when Greg Joseph’s 61-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired. But they left Minnesota believing that was the end of the game, not the end of the story.
“Actually, I talked to some of the guys after the game in Minnesota,” said Giants running back Saquon Barkley, “and I said ‘We’ll see you guys again.'”
Barkley was right. The sixth-seeded Giants (9-7-1) will get their rematch with the third-seeded Vikings (13-4) on Sunday in an NFC wild-card playoff game in Minnesota (4:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
And this time, the Giants absolutely believe they can win.
That’s not just wishful thinking, either, because the Giants probably should have beaten the Vikings three weeks ago, instead of falling just short, 27-24, in that holiday thriller at U.S. Bank Stadium. In many ways, it was one of their finest games of the season. They lost mostly because of self-inflicted wounds.
“I mean, when you play a team close all the way to the end, usually the team that makes a few more plays wins the game,” said Giants coach Brian Daboll. “And they did. They’re a fantastic team.”
Actually, in that game, the Vikings, who won the NFC North, looked more like a vulnerable team. The Giants came into that game off a win over the Washington Commanders that had all but locked them into a playoff berth, but they were still just 1-3-1 in their previous five games. Yet they looked like the better team for much of the game.
The Giants’ undermanned offense really stepped up. Quarterback Daniel Jones had a career-best 30 completions for a season-high 334 yards as the Giants went pass-happy against the Vikings’ 31st-ranked passing defense. Saquon Barkley rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries, and added eight catches for 49 yards in his best receiving day of the year. The Giants offense, which was anemic for most of the season, had a season-high 445 yards.
The Giants even managed to push relatively deep into Vikings territory five times on their six drives in the second half. But they only got one touchdown and three field goals for their efforts.
That’s where the self-inflicted wounds came in:
- The Giants had a second-and-6 at the Vikings’ 19 midway through the third quarter with the game tied, but guard Nick Gates got called for a false start. Two plays later, Jones was sacked and a possible touchdown turned into a 44-yard field goal.
- The Giants were driving early in the fourth quarter and Giants receiver Isaiah Hodgins seemed to have a step on Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson inside the Vikings’ 20. But Jones’ pass was just a little behind him, allowing Peterson to cut in front of Hodgins and pick it off, ending the threat.
- One drive later, the Giants were driving again and Jones hit receiver Richie James right in the numbers on a third-and-5 pass that would’ve been good enough for a first down and gotten the Giants to about the Minnesota 25. But James inexplicably dropped it, and the Giants had to settle for a 55-yard field goal from Graham Gano that cut their deficit to 17-16 with 6:24 to go.
- One drive after that, Hodgins couldn’t hang on to a third-down pass that was a little behind him, but still in his hands, forcing the Giants to punt from their own 31 with 4:10 remaining, still trailing by one. That’s when Vikings safety Josh Metellus came flying up the middle and blocked punter Jamie Gillan’s kick. That gave the Vikings the ball at the 29, and they needed just five plays for Kirk Cousins to hit Justin Jefferson with a 17-yard touchdown pass and a 24-16 lead with three minutes to go.
Those weren’t the only reasons the Giants lost, of course. Their depleted secondary had no answer for Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, who exploited the coverage of cornerback Fabian Moreau for 12 catches, 133 yards and a touchdown. That’s a problem the Giants hope to solve by maybe getting their top cornerback, Adoree’ Jackson, back this week after he missed the last two months with a knee injury. And Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson was unstoppable too, no matter who tried to cover him, with 13 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. The recent emergence of safety/linebacker Landon Collins and the return of safety Xavier McKinney could help with that.
And Jones was constantly under pressure in that first game, mostly from Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter, who feasted on struggling right tackle Evan Neal for two sacks and seven pressures, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
Yet it still came down to the last second and a ridiculously long kick for the Vikings to put the Giants away.
“It was a great matchup. It was a great game,” Barkley said. “Obviously they came out with the win. But we’re excited because this is the stuff you dream about as a kid in the National Football League.”
Clearly, the Giants are dreaming big, even though nobody in their locker room — other than injured receiver Sterling Shepard — was around the last time the franchise was in the postseason, way back in 2016. They have some reason for optimism, like their 8-3 record against teams outside of the NFC East this season, their near-miss against the Vikings, and even how their backups pushed the Philadelphia Eagles to the edge before losing 22-16 in the season finale on Sunday afternoon.
Then again, the Giants have only beaten two teams with a winning record (and two playoff teams) all season long — the Ravens and Jaguars back in October. And the Jaguars were the only team with a winning record they beat on the road. They’re also not exactly the hottest team in football. They finished the season on a 2-5-1 slide. And overall, they went just 3-6-1 since they got off to that blazing, 6-1 start.
Still, they’re full of confidence.
“I like us over anybody, for real,” defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said on Sunday, according to the New York Post. “(The Vikings) are a team we’ve played before, we’re used to, and we know what we’re going to get. So I’m excited.”
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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