Daniel Jones leads underdog Giants past Viking for first playoff win since 2011

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The New York Giants won a playoff for the first since 2011.

The Giants went into Minnesota and defeated the Vikings, 31-24, in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

It sets up a third meeting for the Giants with the rival Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in the divisional round of the playoffs next weekend.

New York Giants

The New York Giants, behind a dominant performance by quarterback Daniel Jones have won a playoff game for the first time since their Super Bowl run in the 2011 season.

They outlasted the Minnesota Vikings in a shootout at US Bank Stadium.

They did it behind a monster effort from Jones in his first career playoff game where he went 24 for 25 for 301 yards and two touchdowns.

Describe the game in two words: Offensive domination. Consider this the Giants’ masterpiece as this unit appears to have hit its stride at the right time. Minnesota could not step them Sunday afternoon.

The Giants punted just once in the contest. Jones was hitting big plays left and right, and when they needed it most they drive right down the field for the winning score. New York went 12 plays, 65 yards for the winning score, with Saquon Barkley finishing it with a 2-yard touchdown run. New York finished with 109 yards of total offense. It was that unit that won them this shootout.

Buying a breakout performance: Jones’ legs becoming his best weapon. The Giants used their quarterbacks legs as a weapon early and often. Jones ran for 22 yards on a pair of carries on the opening drive and had nine carries for 72 yards at the half.

This was a new wrinkle for the Vikings defense. Jones had only four carries in their previous meeting on Christmas Eve day.

But this is what Jones has done most of the season. The Giants’ new regime led by coach Brian Daboll has urged him to use his legs more. Jones has done just that. He finished as the fifth-leading rusher among all quarterbacks this season with 708 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. It has helped take his game to the next level.

Under the radar stat that matters: Jones did not attempt a pass under pressure in the first half. This goes to show just how well the Giants offensive line played. Not a single pass attempted under pressure in the half. No wonder Jones went off, going 12-of-16 for 143 yards with a passing touchdown. Jones was sacked just twice for seven yards in the contest.

It’s also a testament to the game plan and improved play of rookie right tackle Evan Neal. Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter gave him fits in the previous matchup. He barely appeared on the stat sheet in this playoff game.

The play of the Giants’ offensive line was especially impressive considering that Jones was contacted on 31.7% of his dropbacks this season. That was the third-highest rate in the NFL.

Bold prediction for next week: Giants will keep it close vs. Eagles Philadelphia blasted the Giants in the first matchup this season, 48-22. They struggled with them just two weeks ago in the season finale against New York’s backups, despite winning 22-16. That, however, was with a compromised quarterback in Jalen Hurts who wasn’t going to run the ball and take any hits. Regardless, this is a different Giants team than that first meeting. They’re playing much better offensively, with Daniel Jones now performing at a near elite level. It will make it a tightly-contested divisional-round matchup where New York gives them all they can handle with a chance to win at the end. — Jordan Raanan

Minnesota Vikings

In the end, the Minnesota Vikings got the New York Giants right where they wanted them Sunday: In a close game in the fourth quarter.

No team had been better in close games during the regular season than the Vikings. They were 11-0 in games decided by one score, including eight that were achieved by fourth-quarter comebacks. Even the casual observer could see their confidence build at U.S. Bank Stadium as they chipped away at deficits of 17-7 and 24-14.

But historical trends have suggested all season that they were due for a loss in a close game, and when it finally happened, it ended their season.

It has always been fair to wonder how far the Vikings’ expertise in such games would take them, especially with a defense that allowed the Giants to have one of their best games in years. But whether by luck or skill, the Vikings’ new leadership — general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell — maximized the roster they inherited with 13 regular-season wins. They’ll head into the offseason, however, needing to figure out how to upgrade their defense at multiple positions and throughout the scheme.

Buy a breakout performance: Buying T.J. Hockenson, who showed how valuable he has been since the Vikings acquired him from the Detroit Lions at the trade deadline. He has saved his best games for the Giants, having surpassed 100 yards in both games against them this season. Sunday’s performance was his most impressive, however, as he broke tackles and added extra yards in ways that he hadn’t previously.

Regardless, his value has been immense in the Vikings’ offense when Justin Jefferson is bottled up or otherwise occupied. The Vikings almost certainly will try to extend his contract this offseason.

QB breakdown: Kirk Cousins matched Daniel Jones throw for throw in this game while facing far more pressure. There will always be a cross-section of NFL observers who think Cousins is not a “prime-time” quarterback, but the big issue in this game for the Vikings was the defense — not Cousins. If nothing else, Cousins has left little question that the Vikings will (and should) bring him back for another year as their starter in O’Connell’s offense. His “worst” play Sunday was failing to convert a third down on a throwback pass from Justin Jefferson.

Troubling trend: Everything that went wrong this season for the Vikings defense was on full display Sunday. The Giants benefitted from a familiar combination: a weak pass rush and plenty of space in the Vikings’ soft zone coverage. In their first two drives alone, they ate up chunks of 13, 22, 28, 47 and 17 yards.

Quarterback Daniel Jones, pressured on 36% of his dropbacks during the regular season, faced little pressure from the Vikings’ pass rush for most of the game. As a result, the Giants had five drives of at least 75 yards, tied for the most in any playoff game since 2000. And it was the 10th game this season that the Vikings have given up at least 400 yards to an opponent.— Kevin Seifert

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