Daniel Jones has the Giants back in the dance.
Sunday’s 38-10 blowout of the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium, led by four Jones touchdowns, clinched the Giants’ first playoff berth since 2016.
“Pretty special,” owner John Mara said outside the winning home locker room.
The crowd chanted “Daniel Jones!” in the fourth quarter and gave their quarterback a standing ovation when coach Brian Daboll put in backup Tyrod Taylor for a Jones curtain call with 7:30 remaining.
“It beats the alternative, for sure,” Jones deadpanned.
“I thought he earned it,” Daboll said.
The Giants (9-6-1) are locked into the NFC’s six seed, the second of three Wild Cards.
After next weekend’s regular season finale at the Philadelphia Eagles, Daboll’s Giants will open the postseason on the road at the Minnesota Vikings, provided the San Francisco 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Week 18, per Elias Sports Bureau.
Jones finished Sunday’s game with 19 of 24 passing for 177 yards and two TDs, plus 11 carries for 91 yards and two more TDs. Then he became his teammates’ true hero by giving them both Monday and Tuesday off when he broke the team down postgame.
“Where’s the liquor?!” edge rusher Jihad Ward yelled out on an Instagram Live, looking for the nearest party.
Jones has become so valuable that his teammates are telling him to stop taking on defenders, like when the Giants QB barreled through Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke on his final score.
“I told him to get down,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said, not kidding.
Jones’ prime time performance came as momentum is building towards the Giants possibly bringing both Jones and Saquon Barkley back next season.
The team could use a franchise or transition tag on one while signing the other to a long-term contract, or GM Joe Schoen could give both multi-year deals. That will depend on whether they can find a middle ground on the terms and price.
That is a conversation for February and March, though. On Sunday, the Giants earned the right to celebrate.
Daboll got a “sticky and wet” Gatorade bath as the clock wound down from Ward and safety Julian Love on the sideline. Then the first-year coach pumped his fist at the crowd.
“This means we’re in the playoffs right?” Daboll cracked at the podium. “That was exciting. You work hard in this business to give yourself a chance to play extra innings and more games. And we’ve done that. Excitement, sure, definitely.”
The victory was punctuated by a 52-yard Landon Collins interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter that buried the Colts in a 24-3 halftime hole.
It was Collins’ first home game back in New Jersey since re-signing with the Giants in October. And he scored to help send the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since his 2016 All-Pro year.
“When I came in here it was like, ‘This is where I should be at,’” Collins said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Ah, I’m back home.’ It was like, ‘This is where I should be at. This is where I’m supposed to be.’”
Rookie No. 5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux made his presence felt again, as well, knocking Colts starting QB Nick Foles out of the game with a rib injury on a second-quarter sack.
Thibodeaux did snow angels on the turf next to an ailing Foles and formed his hands in a ‘go to sleep’ sign on the sidelines as Foles limped off and the Colts wilted.
Thibodeaux insisted after the game he did not know Foles was injured, though, when he was flailing his arms in celebration on the turf.
Regardless, few foresaw the Giants cracking the postseason in Daboll’s first year at the helm. But he got them here by starting 6-1 in the team’s first seven games.
They grabbed road wins over the Titans, Packers (in London) and Jaguars in that stretch, in addition to home victories over the Panthers, Bears and Ravens.
No result was bigger than their Week 1 win at Tennessee, when Daboll set an exciting tone by going for two points and the win with 1:06 to play in the fourth quarter on a Jones shovel pass to Barkley.
The Giants have struggled to pick up victories in the second half of their schedule, going just 3-5-1 in their last nine games. They’re also only 1-3-1 in the NFC East.
But a postseason berth is refreshing for owners Mara and Steve Tisch given the organization’s 22-59 record (.272 win %) in the past five seasons. Mara let Daboll know it postgame, too.
“He said congratulations,” Daboll said of his conversation with Mara in the coaches’ room. “He was excited. He’s happy, smiling.”
Daboll is the Giants’ fourth head coach in the last six years including Ben McAdoo, who led the team to its last playoff berth in 2016, Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge.
Shurmur, Judge and Daboll all have coached Jones. And while the young quarterback has taken a lot of heat and had his abilities constantly questioned, he left little doubt Sunday about what he’s capable of.
“Whether he’s running or throwing or being a leader for us, I felt like he had the tools to do this all along,” Thomas, the left tackle, said. “He’s a great player, and people are starting to realize it. I think it’s good for the fans to recognize it because he’s dealt with some tough times. I’m happy for him.”
Receivers Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins both caught a TD pass from Jones Sunday, and Barkley set a new career high for rushing in a single season with 1,312 yards with Sunday’s 12 totes for 58 yards.
“I mean no one, let’s be honest, no one besides the men and women in that facility gave us a chance to accomplish this,” Barkley said of the playoff berth. “And we just stuck to the script, kept believing in each other and gave ourselves the opportunity. And we did it.”
Most importantly, though, the Giants are back in the dance for just the second time in the last 11 years. And for now, while this year is still supposed to be year one of a long-term rebuild, they deserve to celebrate that.
That’s why, while Daboll likely will rest several starters for next week’s regular season finale in Philly, the rookie coach said he hadn’t thought about it yet.
“I haven’t,” he said with a sigh. “I’m just gonna enjoy this one right here. Gonna go home and smoke a cigar and be with my family.”