That wasn’t troublemaker Kelly Leak out there catching passes and that wasn’t Amanda Wurlitzer tossing touchdowns and that wasn’t hot-headed Tanner Boyle drilling a long, long field goal. And that definitely wasn’t cranky Morris Buttermaker directing the home team from the sideline.
The Giants did not lose Saturday to a bunch of, well, a bunch of …
“We weren’t playing the Bad News Bears,” receiver Darius Slayton said. “That’s potentially the two-seed in the NFC. They’ve got a lot of good players. I definitely don’t think it changes our perspective of our team. We know we have a good team, we just have to make a few more plays to win the game.”
Yes indeed, the Giants did not win their Week 16 matchup with the Vikings, sent home on the wrong end of a 27-24 loss at US Bank Stadium that delayed a playoff-clinching celebration by at least eight days. The Giants did more on offense in this loss than they have in several victories this season, which was encouraging for them and also frustrating for them. They scored two touchdowns and Graham Gano kicked three field goals and that is more production than usual for a team that is too often challenged to put together one good drive and then another, and then another.
The 445 yards the Giants gained on the fast indoor surface against the yielding and suspect Vikings defensive backfield was their highest total in more than one calendar year. The 319 net passing yards was their second-highest total of the season. Unlike the 324 net yards Daniel Jones passed for back in Week 11 on the Lions, the Giants this time were not in full comeback mode the entire second half — they actually led 13-10 after three quarters.
Jones completed a career-high 30 passes. Three Giants — Saquon Barkley, Isaiah Hodgins and Richie James — had eight receptions, and that two of them, Hodgins and James, are wide receivers makes this a rarity for a team that has traversed this season without, for one reason or another, its projected top four targets: Sterling Shepard (injured), Kadarius Toney (traded), Kenny Golladay (ineffective) and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson (injured). That the Giants had the three longest receptions in this game — James for 33 yards, Slayton for 32 yards and Hodgins for 29 yards — with supreme talent Justin Jefferson and time-tested Adam Thielen on the field for the Vikings is not a statistical achievement anyone would have anticipated.
“I think we had a good plan going in and some things to attack what they were doing, and I thought guys stepped up and made some plays for us,” Jones said. “Offensive line played great. Saquon played great. Receivers made some big plays, too.”
If the Giants (8-6-1) next Sunday beat the Colts (4-9-1 prior to Monday night’s game against the Chargers) they will enjoy a playoff-clinching moment at MetLife Stadium, as the Giants do not need any help to make it into the postseason for the first time since 2016. The Giants might not need an offensive show of strength to get this job done. Moving ahead, though, if they are to be more than a one-and-done team in the NFC tournament, they likely will have to move the ball the way they did in Minneapolis and also limit the mistakes that kept their point-total down and ultimately robbed them of an upset of the now-12-3 Vikings.
There was an interception thrown by Jones when he slightly threw behind Hodgins and was picked off by Patrick Peterson — after the unheralded Hodgins got the better of the heralded Peterson most of the game. There was a fumble by rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger with the Giants nearing the red zone. There was a costly third-down drop by James, who otherwise played a strong game. There were holding penalties on left guard Nick Gates and center Jon Feliciano to compromise possessions.
“I think all day we were moving the ball up and down the field,” center Jon Feliciano said. “We really shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers. They created the turnovers so I’m not trying to take anything from them. We just can’t turn the ball over and have a lot of penalties.”
The Giants on offense saved their best for last. Trailing 24-16 with three minutes remaining, Jones connected with Slayton for 32 yards to breathe life into a desperation drive. Barkley capped it by finding a lane up the middle and exploiting a gap in the Vikings defense on a 27-yard touchdown burst to bring the Giants within 24-22 with 2:01 to go. The got-to-have-it two-point conversion play called for Jones to roll to his right and locate one of his targets. He did, showing great patience before lofting the ball into the back of the end zone, where Bellinger was there to make the grab to tie the game.
“We get a good little motion with our receivers and we try to create a box on that right side so DJ has options,” Bellinger said. “I just tried to get lost behind the safeties. I think DJ just made a really good throw. It felt like it was up there for an hour.”
The Giants players on offense can look back and wonder what might have happened had the game gone into overtime. Kirk Cousins found Jefferson for 17 yards with a third-down throw that led to Greg Joseph’s 61-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Jones and the rest of the offense will have to wait a week to see if there is any carryover effect with the good signs they showed in Minnesota.