The first major decision the New York Giants made on their roster this offseason was to not invest in quarterback Daniel Jones. In April, the Giants had a chance to sign Jones for the 2023 season for just $22 million. But the Giants’ new brain trust of general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll decided they didn’t want to pair their wagon with Jones just yet. They declined Jones’ fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Refusing to renew a quarterback’s initial contract is almost always the first step in saying goodbye to a team’s strongly drafted signal caller. But the Giants insisted they wouldn’t give him up.
“We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up since he got here,” Giants owner John Mara said of Jones last January when he introduced Schoen as the GM. “We keep switching coaches, keep switching offensive coordinators, keep switching offensive line coaches. I take a lot of responsibility for that. But now let’s bring in the right group of coaches and give him some continuity and try to rebuild the offensive line and then be able to make an intelligent evaluation of whether he can be the quarterback for the franchise or not.”
That evaluation has been completed. Jones delivered his best game on the biggest stage of his career on Sunday, leading the Giants to a 31-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings to advance to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Jones completed 24 of his 35 passes for 301 yards (8.6 yards per throw) with two touchdowns and no turnovers. He also ran the ball 17 times for 78 yards and a touchdown, picking up a whopping seven first downs on the ground (Jones nearly doubled Saquon Barkley’s carry). Jones is the first quarterback in NFL history with 300 or more passing yards, two or more passing touchdowns and 70 or more rushing yards in a playoff game, according to NFL Investigation.
Most importantly, Jones had essentially zero errors (his 11 incompletes were mostly drops or smart throws). The game marked New York’s first playoff victory since winning the Super Bowl after the 2011 season, more than a decade ago – which was appropriate since they wore the same away kit they wore during that playoff run. This is where I should probably reveal that I grew up rooting for the Giants, and I promise you this is the most fun Giants team there has been since that Super Bowl squad. And even if the Giants don’t make it to the Super Bowl, Jones had made a lot of money this offseason through contract negotiations, and even more respect in the tri-state area.
The Giants moved the ball as well as they did all season on Sunday. New York had 26 first downs on 68 plays for 431 yards (6.3 yards per play) and went 9-of-15 on third and fourth down combined. The Giants had four touchdown drives, all of which were at least 75 yards long. New York’s opening drive concluded with a Barkley run, where he weaved in and out of Vikings defenders like a Ferrari passing Subarus on the highway.
Barkley, who like Jones is in the final year of his rookie contract, proved he’s back in his pre-ACL teardrop form this season with otherworldly explosiveness and feel. For the first time since his rookie year, Saquon managed 1,300 rushing yards and double-digit rushing touchdowns. But just as Jones has undergone a night and day change, going from offensive coordinator Jason Garrett in 2021 to Daboll and new play caller Mike Kafka, Saquon has become a better downhill runner. While Barkley only had nine against Minnesota, he also caught five passes and accounted for 109 total yards and two touchdowns. On New York’s second drive, they needed just four plays to go 81 yards, with receiver Isaiah Hodgins catching a 14-yard touchdown over the middle.
Hodgins scored this touchdown through veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, a former No. 5 draft pick and three-time first-team All-Pro player. While Peterson’s best days are long behind him, beating Hodgins epitomizes such a decorated player to lead the Giants season.
Hodgins was a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft, having only four offensive snaps in his NFL career this season. The Giants picked him up after he was cut from Buffalo’s practice squad in November, presumably because Schoen knew him from Buffalo. The Giants lost receivers Sterling Shepard, Collin Johnson and Wan’Dale Robinson to season-ending injuries, traded Kadarius Toney and benched Kenny Golladay, putting Hodgins third on the Giants in receiving yards this year (351 ). On Sunday, he had eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, plus four crucial first downs. Hodgins seemingly does all the little things right. In the second quarter, the Giants faced a third-and-seven and threw the ball six yards out to Hodgins. Hodgins, knowing the situation, made sure he fell back to make sure he was first.
It’s not a sexy game, but it’s a savvy one from a player who embodies the ethos Daboll promised to bring to the Giants: be smart, tough, and dependable. This team is built on so many incredibly unsexy players – punt returner turned starting wide receiver Richie James; judge guard Mark Glowinski; safety Jason Pinnock, who was cut by the Jets just a year after being picked in the fifth round; journeyman defense Fabian Moreau, who has worked moonlighting as the Giants’ number 1. 1 cornerback for months; and former Cowboys linebacker turned Packers Jaylon Smith, who has become a New York starter. The Giants went into this season essentially spending a third of their budget—about $60 million—on players who were either injured or not playing for the team (or in Golladay’s case, borderline banned from the team).
But no one has come to represent that ethos better than Jones. He curbed his horrible turnover problem by playing smart. As a rookie, Jones led the NFL with 18 fumbles. His 2.3 interceptions plus fumbles per game were the second most of any quarterback in any season since 1995. Flash forward to 2022, and Jones had just six fumbles and threw an interception at just 1.1 percent of his passes, the lowest percentage of all qualifying passes. quarterbacks. That decision-making coupled with Jones’ rushing ability—and willingness to drop his shoulder for yardage and play to the point of exhaustion four straight plays—has made the Giants’ offense legitimately powerful. The mere threat of Jones being able to run opened up more passing lanes against Minnesota on Sunday, and the Giants were able to do whatever they wanted offensively for most of the game.
At first, it looked like the Vikings offense, with a better-paid quarterback and many recognizable skill-positioned players, might be able to keep pace. Minnesota’s opening drive touchdown looked effortless. But then the Vikings started beating themselves. A weird lateral move from Justin Jefferson to Kirk Cousins that lost two yards on third-and-1, a penalty that negated a fourth-and-1 conversion, and finally a Cousins checkdown on fourth-and-8 on Minnesota’s last offensive play that fell short of the sticks.
Many will point out how that epitomizes the literal shortcomings of both Cousins and the Vikings. But to be fair to Cousins, he played well for the most part. He completed 31 of his 39 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns (plus rushing for a third), and made no turnovers. He will be heavily criticized for only giving Jefferson seven catches for 47 yards, including just two catches for 10 yards after the first quarter.
But the Giants played in Jefferson after the first drive and the Vikings used this to their advantage. The Giants double-covering Jefferson opened things up for Minnesota’s second touchdown, and then the Giants triple-covering Jefferson helped create the Vikings’ third touchdown. Another double cover from Jefferson opened up TJ Hockenson to put down a crucial fourth. Jefferson’s box score was weak, but his presence was a major reason the Vikings were able to move the ball. It’s not fair to blame this game or this season on Cousins not getting the ball to Jefferson.
We’ve known the truth about this Vikings team for months. They were literally the luckiest team in NFL history, at least in terms of how they played against their record. Minnesota went 13-4 despite being outscored by their opponents this year. They were the first team in NFL history to go 11-0 in one-score games. #Nerdmath suggests that the Vikings were about an eight or nine win team that fell behind in a 13 win season. The Vikings were a man at a roulette table who put his money on red and won 11 times in a row, and the casino offered to pay for their room to let them stay longer.
The blame will be placed at Cousins’ feet, but defense is this team’s business, and Jones and the Giants were ready to take advantage of that. The Giants had five explosive plays over 20 yards, the most the Giants had in a game all season (equaling their Christmas Eve output against … the Vikings). Minnesota allowed the second-most passing yards and most passing first downs this season, and their defensive-weighted DVOA (which counts more recent games more heavily) ranked 28th in the NFL. The Vikings punched above their weight by winning the NFC North weeks in advance, but this was never a championship team. Ironically, these Vikings still need what they’ve always needed: a third wide receiver and better cornerbacks.
Meanwhile, the Giants head to Philadelphia for the division round, where they face the Eagles. For all the parallels to the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl season, this run actually has more in common with 2007: That year, the Giants lost to Dallas twice and then defeated the NFC East champion Cowboys in the divisional round as Dallas came off a bye . . The Giants get the same chance to do that next week in Philadelphia.
But no matter how this season ends, Jones gets paid. A four-year deal for $120 million with a guarantee of about $70 million is probably the absolute bottom. His real deal will probably be much bigger than that. But those details can wait. The Giants didn’t invest in Jones last year, but they won’t hesitate to do it now.
After the win, Jones spoke with NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Jones used the time to give his typical, milquetoast answers: He praised the defense and his offensive linemen, but said there was more work to be done…bla bla bla. Then Jaylon Smith crashed the interview, put an arm around Jones and looked straight at the camera.
“That’s my quarterback!” Smith yelled, turning to look Jones straight in the eye as a huge smile spread across his face. “That’s my quarterback!”
The Giants weren’t sure last year, but they are now.