It’s been an interesting couple of days in East Rutherford. It started with the end of the Giants’ workweek, on Friday, and how first-year coach Brian Daboll chose to address his players. It was with a question: Does everyone know what’s going to happen if we win?
Daboll got nods and smiles—especially from the players who’ve been around long enough to know how hard the past five years hit a proud franchise.
That he didn’t say the word was no mistake, and his players knew it. Which is why, when he gathered them again Saturday night, less than 24 hours before kickoff against the Colts, at the team hotel, with a willingness to spit out the P word, it caught more than a few people in the ballroom off-guard. .
Look, here’s the dealDaboll bellowed to the ballroom Saturday night. You play the way I know you’re capable of playing, you’re in the playoffs by tomorrow night.
“That’s the first time I said playoffs to them,” Daboll confirmed, driving home Sunday. And yes, true to his promise, the Giants are in the playoffs.
It happened Sunday thanks to a 38-10 thrashing of the sad-sack Colts, with what Daboll called “our best complementary game.” But, of course, reflecting on how far the Giants had come, just before lighting up a victory cigar, this was about so much more than just one day for the first-year coach. It was about the 11 months he and GM Joe Schoen, who came over from Buffalo with him, have built towards it. It was about the people involved. It’s also about where he thinks they’re going.
“Look, everyone wants [to win],” Daboll says. “But I think handling the players and people in the building the right way even when you don’t get the results you want, and to keep on pushing forward with a positive mindset and approach, I think helps. Obviously, the fast start helped those guys to believe, Hey, there’s a way to do things every week in this league, and, if you do it, we have a chance. And if you don’t, you don’t.
“And that’s really all it is. I think our guys understand that every week; there’s a few things that we need to do to give ourselves a chance.”
In short, Daboll tried to get them to value the process over the result, and the playoffs, as he sees it, are in the results category—with no need to focus much on it. Except, that is, for a day like Sunday. Or when you get to where your team can handle it.
I think this being the second-to-last MMQB column of the regular season would make it the penultimate one, right? If so, in the penultimate 2022 regular-season edition of The MMQB, we’ve got …
• A good look at Brock Purdy and the Niners, Geno Smith and the Seahawks, and the surging Jaguars in Three Deep.
• A comprehensive scouting report on Monday night’s Bengals-Bills showdown, plus some Patriots and Steelers stuff, and coaching carousel rumors in Ten Takeaways.
• A look back at a zany semifinal Saturday in college football, and how it might impact the April draft.
And a whole lot more. But we’re starting with Daboll and his plucky Giants.
Daboll has trouble saying he and Schoen are surprised by any of what’s happened since September, and that’s because, as he explains the 2022 Giants’ story, he really didn’t have any expectations at all. Or, at least, he didn’t have expectations other than he and Schoen would lead a group of players, coaches and scouts that would work in lockstep to lay the foundation of what he, and everyone at the office in New Jersey, hopes is another sustainable winner.
It’s been a while since the Giants had one of those. The last time New York was in the playoffs was six years ago, and that year, 2016, seemed more of a blip than anything—before that, their last playoff game was Super Bowl XLVI, in February ’12. And so the idea that John Mara had in hiring Schoen and Daboll was that it might take some time to rework and reconstruct the organization.
That still may be true. But the results they’ve gotten so far certainly don’t scream rebuild. There were two wins to kick off the season. A 6-1 start. There was the way the team persevered through a winless, 0-3-1 month, only to rebound just as it seemed things were slipping away. And then, there was the way Sunday went.
When Daboll called it the team’s best “complementary” game, that wasn’t a throwaway line. It’s where, really, he and his coaches have been striving to get the players all season—to where the offense fits the defense and vice versa, and both play well off the special teams, and the whole operation is working together.
What does that look like? The Giants started by marching down the field on 11- and nine-play drives of 71 and 64 yards, to go up 14-3. Then Landon Collins scored on a 52-yard pick-six to make it 21-3. After that, they took advantage of a 22-yard Indy punt to quickly drive into field goal range to get the score to 24-3 at halftime with a 36-yard Graham Gano field goal at the buzzer.
And much of the second half was Daboll’s crew managing its way to a win. The defense held the Colts to a field goal try (Indy missed) after the offense coughed it up on a Darius Slayton fumble on the first play of the second half. Then the Giants went on two long touchdown drives that ate up yardage and time and got the game into the fourth quarter, by which point the Colts had been put to bed.
“The units fed off each other, and obviously put the ball in the end zone some—we had a return for a touchdown, the special teams did a good job,” Daboll says. “Just thought we played a good game. And it’s hard. This is a team that had five years of 10-plus losses in a row.”
Daboll looks back now at how he and Schoen built their staff, and the roster, and one common thread is how, even though they came in tandem, they wanted to actively fight against putting things together just one way.
So Schoen brought Brandon Brown from Philly to be assistant GM, and Daboll imported coordinators from Kansas City (OC Mike Kafka) and Baltimore (DC Wink Martindale), and the process was such where the minute a guy came aboard, he was part of hiring the next guy. DBs coach Jerome Henderson, for example, was hired weeks before and part of the interview process for Martindale. Then he helped Martindale pick other position coaches.
“[Martindale] was asking questions; he was also getting asked questions by the offensive line coach about different things,” Daboll says. “I thought that it was such an inclusive way to hire people. I just really believed that, if I ever got my shot to make it, I’m not going to be the end-all-be-all. I want to include everybody that I can include to make sure that we’re getting the best possible candidates to bring on. It’s kind of a checks and balances for myself and the other people.”
That spilled right over into how they built the roster, pulling on just about every lever to find talent. That started with finding guys carrying institutional knowledge.
“I just think for Saquon Barkley, a guy like [former Bills RB] Matt Breida in the room is helpful,” Daboll says. “Matt wouldn’t be on the team if he couldn’t play for us. But Joe liked his skill set, and more importantly, we knew the type of person and makeup that he had. And I think that’s a benefit.”
Which went for putting another former Bill, Davis Webb, in the quarterback room with Daniel Jones. Or getting former Raven Jihad Ward, who played for Martindale in Baltimore, in the outside linebacker room with Kayvon Thibodeaux, or another former Raven, Justin “Jelly” Ellis. Or landing former Colt and Eagle Marcus Johnson to enter a receiver room coached by former Indy and Philly assistant Mike Groh. And that was just one phase of how the puzzle came together.
“Fabian Moreau, Jason Pinnock, Isaiah Hodgins, those were some guys that we acquired throughout the year [in-season],” Daboll says. “And then guys like Richie James, Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, players that we signed to come in and play. Rookie free agents, Zyon Gilbert, and then our draft picks, Evan Neal.”
But maybe the most important was the group of players left behind by Dave Gettleman, Joe Judge, Pat Shurmur, and the rest of those who came before Schoen and Daboll. So many of those players are flourishing now.
Barkley has rushed for a career-high 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns with a game left in the season. Jones is maintaining high-water marks in yards (3,205), completion percentage (66.5), passer rating (92.5) and rushing yards (708) while pacing to a career low in picks (5). And guys down the line, like Slayton (46 receptions, 724 yards), are right at their career best with a week to go.
In turn, as each of those players have produced individually, the constant idea that the other shoe is going to drop, built over those five uncharacteristic seasons of losing Giants football, have begun to subside.
“What I’ve tried to do is just be as consistent as I could, whether we win or we lose,” Daboll says. “My message to them was, This is the National Football League; you’re going to go through these times. There wasn’t a season in my 21 years where I haven’t been through adversity. So how can you just focus on the things you need to do each week to win? And if we don’t get the results, you guys, I can f—ing live with it, because we’re doing s— the right way. You’re on time, you’re paying attention, you’re working extra at practice. You’re doing all the things that good teams do, and sometimes you don’t get the results, because a play here or there will make a huge difference in a game.
“We’re going to be positive in our approach. We’re also going to be truthful and hold everyone accountable.”
So when a 7-2 start evaporated into a month without a win, no one panicked. Then, 7-5-1 became 9-6-1; and the next challenge is on the horizon.
Jones is in a contract year, Barkley is, too, and so there will be a lot to deal with after the season for this group, as well as the direction that Daboll and Schoen want to take it next.
But, for now, they’ve got a really nice start on their hands. The model for players—smart, dependable and tough—is being met, those guys are buying in, and wins are following. Even better, Daboll really likes the group he gets to be around every day, which makes all of this a lot easier. He trusts them now, too, which is a big reason why he can, sure, throw around words like that playoffs.
“I think Joe, and the scouting staff, have done a really good job of bringing guys in, along with the coaches, who certainly have input that the scouts listen to,” Daboll says. “Ultimately, Joe and I gotta make decisions that we think is best for the team, and that’s what we try to do. It’s never going to be perfect, but we certainly try to be.”
And they’re a lot closer to it than the Giants have been in a long time.