MINNEAPOLIS — Bring on the Eagles. The Giants have Daniel Jones.
Jones threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a franchise-record 78 yards. Saquon Barkley scored twice.
And the Giants’ defense got a final possession stop on Kirk Cousins and the NFL’s comeback kids to upset the Minnesota Vikings, 31-24, on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I know we have an elite quarterback,” Barkley said of Jones. “He’s shown that multiple times. We’ve also got amazing players around him, too. We’ve got his back no matter what.”
Sunday’s victory, in the franchise’s first playoff game since 2016, marked the Giants’ first postseason win since their 2011 Super Bowl season under Tom Coughlin.
Rookie coach Brian Daboll looked to the sky as the clock hit zero and admitted he thought again of his late grandparents who raised him, Ruth and Chris Kirsten of West Seneca, N.Y.,
“Private moment I don’t wanna talk about,” Daboll said as his eyes welled up. “I don’t wanna talk about it ‘cause then I’ll choke up.”
Now that they’ve dismantled the 3-seed Vikings, Daboll and the 6-seed Giants will visit the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles next Saturday in the NFC’s divisional round.
They are 0-2 against their NFC East rival this season, losing 48-22 at home in Week 14 on Dec. 11 and falling 22-16 at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 18 on Jan. 8 with mostly backups playing against Philly’s starters.
But the Giants have Jones, so they believe they have a chance.
He is the first QB in NFL postseason history with 300-plus passing yards, 2-plus passing TDs & 70-plus rushing yards in a playoff game, per NFL Research.
“I think on the first series there, he takes off, makes a play with his legs and doesn’t slide, kind of runs through the guy,” center Jon Feliciano said. “It’s tough when you have a quarterback that can do that and then dart it.”
Jones played down all of the attention on him and what Sunday’s win might mean in the great debate over his career and future.
“Not really focused on that,” he said. “Trying to play as well as I can, and we’re all trying to do that. We’ve got a special group, special team, and that is what it’s about. Just trying to play as well as I can and win games.”
In a scene emblematic of Daboll’s team all year, some of the biggest late defensive plays were made by rookie safety Dane Belton and rookie corner Cor’Dale Flott, before safety Xavier McKinney made the final tackle on tight end T.J. Hockenson for a game-sealing turnover on downs with 1:44 to play.
“What’s crazy was Wink said we expect our great players to play great, and then right after he said that he said, that’s all of you guys,” veteran corner Adoree Jackson said after limiting star Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson to seven catches for 47 yards. “And that lets you know the belief he has in us. And when someone believes in you even though you believe in yourself, that goes a long way. It lets us go out there, play fast and play free.”
Minnesota had gotten help from a ridiculous roughing the passer call on Dexter Lawrence to start the potential game-tying drive, but the defense didn’t flinch.
Belton tackled Dalvin Cook. Flott broke up a pass for K.J. Osborn. And McKinney tackled T.J. Hockenson short of the sticks on fourth down.
The Giants had tried to end the game with their offense up seven. But a Darius Slayton wide-open drop on 3rd and 16 with 3:03 to play had forced them to punt the ball back.
Again, this season is different. The defense, which gotten other key late plays from Darnay Holmes and Kayvon Thibodeaux, stepped up.
“Today it could have been me but next week it’ll be — hopefully not me again! — but it’ll be something. It’s football,” Slayton said. “It’s gonna be somebody every week that does something that doesn’t help the team win. But at the end of the day, that’s why it’s a team game. The defense went out there and got the stop. It speaks to the strength of the team.”
It was the Giants’ offense that blew Sunday’s national audience away, though.
With the game tied at 24 apiece, Jones engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by Barkley’s second TD of the game, a hard-nosed run up the gut from 2 yards out. That gave the Giants a 31-24 lead with 7:47 remaining.
The key plays were a 19-yard completion to Isaiah Hodgins, a 10-yard swing pass to Barkley with Kenny Golladay burying Vikings corner Duke Shelley into the turf on a block, and a 2-yard Jones run on 4th and 1 from the Vikings’ 7.
Hodgins drew a defensive holding call on Patrick Peterson to get the Giants within two yards of the goal line. Then Barkley carried former Giant Dalvin Tomlinson, the Vikings DT, into the end zone for the score.
“That was big time,” Jones said of Barkley’s second TD. “That was an impressive run from him. It was one of those where he wasn’t going to be denied. You could see that almost in the huddle before the ball was snapped. We had an expectation and just saw that. He did a great job there.”
To open the second half, Jones and the Giants offense mounted a third TD drive in their first five possessions for a 24-14 lead with 11:37 to play in the third quarter. Jones hit Barkley (24) and Isaiah (32) for huge completions to set up a 9-yard TD pass to tight end Daniel Bellinger.
But Cousins and the Vikings answered immediately with a 75-yard TD drive of their own, capped by a 3-yard Cousins TD pass to tight end Irv Smith. Julian Love nearly intercepted Cousins on a pass intended for Jefferson broken up by McKinney, but replay showed it had hit the ground.
Jamie Gillan’s first punt of the game, with about 4 and a half minutes left in the third quarter, nearly resulted in the game’s first turnover. Giants corner Nick McCloud jarred the ball loose from Vikings return man Jalen Reagor.
But Minnesota’s Kris Boyd recovered. And the Vikes drove for a 38-yard Greg Joseph field goal to tie the game at 24 apiece with 12:34 left in the fourth quarter.
O’Connell’s Vikings had to keep scoring, because the Giants offense was practically unstoppable.
Jones came out on fire and led the Giants to touchdowns on their first two drives, carrying them into halftime with a 17-14 lead.
The Giants’ offensive stats through their first two drives were ridiculous: nine plays, seven first downs, 166 yards (100 passing, 66 rushing), 18.4 yards per play, two TDs, 14 points and one penalty.
Barkley scored the first TD untouched on a 28-yard run behind great blocks from left tackle Andrew Thomas, Hodgins and Feliciano. That score provided an important answer to Minnesota’s game-opening TD drive that was capped by a Cousins 1-yard run. And Hodgins caught a 14-yard pass from Hodgins on the second drive.
With the defense settling down, the Giants then expanded their lead to 17-7 with 3:25 left in the first half on a 25-yard Graham Gano field goal after their longest drive (by time) of the season: 20 plays, 85 yards, 10 minutes and 52 seconds.
Cousins tore up the Giants’ defense for a 75-yard drive capped by a 9-yard TD pass to wideout K.J. Osborn with 45 seconds remaining before half to draw within three.
Still, the Giants’ belief never wavered, even after losing 27-24 in the same building on Christmas Eve.
That was a trying week. It had included a shooting at the Mall of America that had put the Giants and the Mall on lockdown the night before the game.
“I mean we had three turnovers, we dealt with the shooting and then he banged the 61-yard field goal to win,” Feliciano said. “We were pretty confident.”
Jones admitted there were “definitely some nerves” going into Sunday’s game, but he said “once we settled in and started playing, it felt the same.”
Nothing feels the same about the Giants anymore, though. They have Jones to thank for that.