How the Giants earned their most important win in 7 years: ‘Big-time players make big plays’


LANDOVER, Md. — The Giants’ best players delivered in the biggest moments of Sunday night’s pivotal game against the Commanders. That’s why the Giants were able to escape FedEx Field with a 20-12 win that improved their record to 8-5-1 and has them on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2016.

“We needed our big-time players to make big plays, and you see a lot of those guys stepped up,” running back Saquon Barkley said. “You see (quarterback) Daniel (Jones), (outside linebacker) Kayvon (Thibodeaux), (defensive tackle) Dex (Lawrence), (defensive tackle) Leo (Williams). All those guys stepped up and made big plays.”

Thibodeaux had his coming out party with 12 tackles and three tackles for a loss. The rookie first-round pick strip-sacked Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke from behind in the second quarter and returned the loose ball for his first career touchdown.

Thibodeaux also made a critical stop of a scrambling Heinicke at the 1-yard line with just over one minute remaining, as the Giants clung to an eight-point lead. A 1-yard touchdown run on the next play was negated by an illegal formation penalty.

Linebacker Azeez Ojulari forced an incompletion on the next play from the 6-yard line. Then cornerback Darnay Holmes broke up a fourth-down pass into the end zone intended for Curtis Samuel, sending the Commanders into a frenzy about the lack of a pass interference penalty.


“It gets really grimy when the quarterback is running around and scrambling,” safety Julian Love said. “Guys are just trying to make plays. I think the right call was made — as in a no-call, of course.”

Sunday’s game followed the script that was so common during the Giants’ 6-1 start, but had vanished during a rocky 1-4-1 stretch. They walked the tight rope all night, but always managed to make a big play when they needed one most. Like on the Commanders’ previous drive when Washington reached New York’s 5-yard line before Lawrence stripped Heinicke and Williams recovered the fumble with 6:06 remaining and the Giants leading 17-12.

Coach Brian Daboll alertly challenged that ruling, as Heinicke was initially ruled down before fumbling. The call was overturned after replay revealed the ball was loose before Heinicke hit the ground.

“It was a big-time play,” Williams said. “I think the defense showed up big-time today.”

It was far from an offensive masterpiece, but quarterback Daniel Jones was on fire during an epic 18-play, 97-yard touchdown drive that chewed up 8:35 in the second quarter. And running back Saquon Barkley found little room to operate all night until the Giants’ final drive, when he ripped off three straight runs that gained 41 yards. That helped the Giants get into range for a 50-yard field goal by Graham Gano to extend their cushion to 20-12 with 1:55 remaining.

“I saw an explosive, downhill, powerful runner,” Daboll said of Barkley. “And I was proud as heck of the kid.”

The Giants moved into the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race, pulling one game ahead of the Commanders (7-6-1). The Giants also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington. The Seahawks and Lions are lurking at 7-7, but the Giants are in prime position with three games remaining.


“None of us are shocked in this locker room,” Barkley said. “We knew what we were capable of doing, and we put ourselves in the driver seat to control our own destiny.”

Here are four more takeaways from the Giants’ most important win in seven years:

Doing enough to win

This was set up as a career-defining game for Jones, who is trying to lead the Giants to the playoffs for the first time in his career — and stake his claim as the franchise’s quarterback of the future in the process.

The marathon drive in the second quarter made a persuasive argument for Jones. Backed up at the Giants’ 3-yard line after two unproductive drives to start the game, Jones methodically picked apart the Commanders defense with repeated pinpoint passes into tight windows.

Jones hit wide receiver Richie James for 10 yards on third-and-9 to keep the drive alive despite pressure in his face. Then, on fourth-and-9 from Washington’s 35-yard line, Jones connected with James again for an 11-yard gain.

Daboll said the decision to go for it in that situation was made on Wednesday during his meeting with analytics staffers Ty Siam and Cade Knox. Gano said the wind was “kicking up” at that moment, and he told the coaches that a 53-yard field goal was likely out of his range.

Even with those factors in mind, it showed faith that hasn’t always been evident to put the ball in Jones’ hands in that spot.

“I have confidence in Daniel,” Daboll said. “I have since I have been here.”

Jones hit Isaiah Hodgins for a 19-yard gain on the next play before Barkley scored a 3-yard touchdown on a direct snap.

The bulk of the Giants’ offense came on that drive. That was their lone offensive touchdown, and they struggled staying on the field throughout the game, converting just 2-of-10 third downs.

Jones completed 21-of-32 passes for 160 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Jones’ 5.0 yards per attempt was the fifth-lowest among starting quarterbacks this week. With an emphasis on getting the ball out quick, Jones didn’t attempt a single pass more than 15 yards downfield, and the Giants didn’t have a single play gain 20 yards.

The short passing game was by design, as the coaching staff was clearly conscious of Washington’s dangerous pass rush. The approach successfully eliminated negative plays. Jones didn’t produce a turnover, wasn’t sacked and was only hit four times.

The Giants altered their attack, going away from their typical play-action heavy approach. They also went with an empty backfield more than usual, which helped Jones read the defense and get the ball out quicker. And there was a creative wrinkle in the red zone, as Barkley shifted late and took a direct snap on his 3-yard touchdown run.

Jones’ legs weren’t as much of a factor as they have been in previous meetings with Washington. Excluding three kneel downs, Jones tallied seven carries for 38 yards. He had an important 10-yard scramble on third-and-15 from Washington’s 42 late in the third quarter to get in range for a 50-yard Gano field goal to give the Giants a 17-9 lead.

Jones’ performance didn’t make a definitive statement, but the bottom line is he did enough to win in a big game. That’s a major step forward for the quarterback, who had been 0-9 in prime time before Sunday night’s win.

“He’s done it all year,” Barkley said. “I kind of knew he was going to play really well this game. Ball just snapped off his hand pregame. It was a big game, a big moment, and we needed our big-time players to make big plays, and you see a lot of those guys stepped up.”

Barkley’s bounce back

It was clear Barkley had his burst back early in the game when he executed an ankle-breaking juke on Commanders linebacker Jon Bostic, who read a swing pass to the flat. Barkley left Bostic grasping at air en route to a 6-yard gain.

However, Barkley didn’t find many opportunities to get into the open field, as he had just 39 yards on his first 12 carries. But when the Giants needed Barkley, he ran hard and picked up three straight first downs on the final drive that ended in Gano’s second 50-yard field goal of the second half.

Barkley finished with 87 yards on 18 carries. The 87 yards were his most since Week 10. His 4.8 yards per carry average was his highest since Week 5. If the Giants are going to make any noise down the stretch and in the postseason, they need the explosive version of Barkley igniting their offense.

“You go through ups and downs through the season,” Barkley said. “Started off really fast and had a little stretch where the run game wasn’t really going, but it only takes one game. Hopefully this game will catapult us to continue to get the run game going for the rest of the season.”

‘We do it together’

The defense rediscovered the formula that fueled their early-season success. The Commanders went 1-for-10 on third down and converted just 1-of-3 red zone trips. Both red zone stops came in the game’s final minutes. The Giants also had three sacks and recovered two Heinicke fumbles.

“We’re going to battle,” Thibodeaux said. “I think our coaches are resilient, and I think they call the game with fire, with passion, and players see that. It helps us build, because we do it together.”

There were some dicey moments, which are to be expected from a secondary that is still missing No. 1 cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and top safety Xavier McKinney. Jackson, who has missed four straight games with a knee injury, could be back next week. McKinney’s timeline is unclear, but he conducted a brief pregame workout on Sunday without a brace on the broken fingers that have sidelined him for the past six games.

Without Jackson, Fabian Moreau again traveled with Washington’s No. 1 wide receiver, Terry McLaurin. After a quiet first half, the Commanders made a point to feed McLaurin. He finished with six catches for 70 yards on six targets.

Rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who scored a touchdown when the teams tied two weeks ago, was a bigger problem. The first-round pick torched the Giants for 105 yards and one touchdown on four catches. Dotson beat cornerback Nick McCloud for a 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter, then later leapt over safety Jason Pinnock for a 61-yard gain in the fourth quarter. The deep pass didn’t hurt the Giants thanks to Lawrence’s strip sack later in that drive.

McCloud rotated with rookie Cor’Dale Flott at the cornerback spot opposite Moreau. Pinnock played a strong game other than the long completion he allowed to Dotson. The 6-foot, 205-pound Pinnock continues to flash athleticism while subbing for McKinney. Pinnock closed fast to break-up a third-down pass in the second quarter and hit Heinicke from behind to force an incompletion on a third-down blitz early in the fourth quarter.

A second-year pro claimed off waivers from the Jets before the season opener, Pinnock has shown enough promise to be viewed as a useful piece going forward. Considering he only converted from cornerback last year, he has plenty of room to grow.

4. Landon Collins was frustrated while spending the past five games on the practice squad after getting two game-day elevations midway through the season. Collins got another opportunity on Sunday, and he took advantage.

Collins primarily played in the box in a sub package on passing downs. But with the Giants searching for solutions to a porous run defense, Collins also got some snaps as an inside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense. Collins responded with three tackles, including a strong hit to drop wide receiver Curtis Samuel a yard short of a first down on third-and-3 in the third quarter.

Collins has resisted the linebacker label throughout his career, but he’s now willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field. With the state of the Giants’ linebacking corps, a bigger role could be ahead. The Giants will need to sign Collins to the active roster, however, since he’s now exhausted his three practice squad elevations.

“It was frustrating knowing I could help in any possible way, but I’m just glad I got the opportunity today,” Collins said. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m just happy to contribute.”

With Collins elevated, Tae Crowder was a healthy scratch. Crowder played the majority of snaps in the first seven games, but he’s clearly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. It’s hard to envision Crowder emerging from the doghouse this season.

Giants kicker Graham Gano made two field goals from 50-plus yards away on Sunday night. (Geoff Burke / USA Today)


• Gano should never be taken for granted. He is now 7-for-8 on field goals from 50-plus yards, including two in the second half on Sunday. Gano’s second 50-yarder was toward the end of the stadium with a headwind.

On the kickoff after his last field goal, Gano appeared to be shaken up while trying to tackle Washington’s Antonio Gibson at the end of a 43-yard return. But Gano said he was cleared after getting evaluated for a concussion.

• Commanders coach Ron Rivera had the same concerns about attempting a field goal into the wind, so he elected to punt on fourth-and-12 from the New York 34-yard line on the game’s opening drive. Washington netted just four yards after a 20-yard return by James.

• Giants punter Jamie Gillan had a strong game. He had three punts fair caught inside the 20-yard line and delivered a booming 56-yard punt to help flip field position when the Giants were backed up late in the third quarter.

• James was a money receiver on Sunday, converting three of his four catches for first downs. He also earned some money, as he hit a $100,000 incentive for reaching 40 catches for the season. James, who never had more than 23 catches in his first four seasons, now has 42 receptions. He has bounced back well from his two fumbled punt returns in the Giants’ loss to the Seahawks in Week 8.

• In a game when the Giants played almost exclusively with three wide receivers on the field, Kenny Golladay played one snap. The $72-million receiver has four catches this season on an offense that is mostly devoid of playmakers.

Nick Gates made his third straight start at left guard, but he alternated with Ben Bredeson, who returned from a six-week absence due to a knee injury. They rotated every two series, but Bredeson out-snapped Gates, 42-21, mostly because he was on the field for the 18-play drive.

(Photo: Geoff Burke / USA Today)


Related posts

Leave a Comment