Giants Put Comeback Just Out of Vikings’ Reach

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MINNEAPOLIS — The roar of the crowd inside U.S. Bank Stadium dipped and swelled like its replica Nordic ship outside would have done on the sea’s crashing waves.

The game swayed back and forth as the Giants and Vikings compiled more than 700 yards of total offense, but it finished in stunned near-silence as the Giants celebrated a 31-24 win. In the first upset for the lower-seeded team of this N.F.L. postseason, the Giants ended the thrilling season of the Vikings, who had won an N.F.L.-record 11 one-score games.

Up by a touchdown with the Vikings threatening the kind of late comeback that had been their trademark, the Giants came up with a big defensive stop.

The Vikings advanced to their own 33-yard line on a roughing-the-passer call against defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, who seemed to make a clean hit on quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota took advantage with short throws to drive past midfield. On fourth-and-8, with 1:44 left in the game, Cousins targeted tight end T.J. Hockenson with another short throw, and Giants safety Xavier McKinney slammed him to the ground for an insufficient 3-yard gain.

At the turnover on downs, McKinney took off his helmet and celebrated with the defense, as Coach Brian Daboll signaled to the offense to kneel out the clock.

The sixth-seeded Giants had upset the third-seeded Vikings for the team’s first playoff win since the 2011 season, when they won the Super Bowl, and they advance to a divisional-round matchup with the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles next week.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s enjoyable work to be able to be working this time of year,” Daboll said in a postgame news conference.

The Giants had not appeared in the postseason since 2016, and they justifiably ranked near the bottom of most pundits’ power rankings in August. Daboll was entering his first season as a head coach, after he was hired by new General Manager Joe Schoen in January. The team’s best player, running back Saquon Barkley, had not played a full season since 2018, his rookie year, as he battled injuries. The quarterback, Daniel Jones, faced mounting questions over his long-term future, with an inconsistent career plagued by turnovers and coaching changes.

But Jones has flourished under Daboll, his third head coach. Jones threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns, completing 24 of his 35 attempts, and did not post an interception. In the first playoff game of his career, he said he felt calm and poised.

I think just trying to focus on what I got to do and focus on just executing and keeping it that simple,” Jones said. “Not making it bigger than that or not getting outside that moment, just trying to stay as kind of present and locked in to what I got to do.”

Barkley, too, played well in his playoff debut. Though he only saw nine carries, he rushed for 53 yards and two touchdowns, including one run on which he spun past a defender — a flashback to his elusiveness as a rookie.

For a franchise that has been plagued with instability since winning the Super Bowl in the 2011 season, the moment served as a refreshing scene. Steve Tisch, the Giants’ co-owner, said in a statement that Daboll and Schoen “laid the foundation for continued success.” Whether the Jones and Barkley are part of the franchise next year remains uncertain, as both are seeking contract extensions.

The Giants’ front office, armed with little financial firepower amid questionable contracts doled out by the previous leadership, remained competitive throughout the season, stringing together wins even as the receiver corps and secondary took on injuries.

McKinney had missed eight games with a hand injury, and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson was out for seven games with a knee injury, but both were in action to help hold the Vikings’ Pro Bowl receivers in check. Justin Jefferson had just seven catches for 47 yards, Adam Thielen had three grabs for 50, and neither caught a touchdown pass.

The teams traded touchdowns on their opening possessions — a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Cousins and a 28-yard scamper by Barkley. On the Giants’ next drive, Jones hit receiver Isaiah Hodgins for a touchdown on an 18-yard dart with about a minute remaining in the first quarter.

The Vikings struggled to contain Jones on scrambles and designed runs, and the quarterback took off on the ground on the Giants’ first drive of the second quarter. Jones ran on seven plays of an 85-yard drive that seemed to end with him scoring on a 4-yard rush, but the touchdown was nullified because of an illegal shift. Giants kicker Graham Gano converted a 25-yard field goal to bring the Giants’ lead to 17-7.

Jones finished the game with 78 rushing yards, 71 of them coming in the first half.

Minnesota responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that concluded with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to K.J. Osborn with under a minute left, closing the gap to 17-14 at halftime.

The shootout continued to start the third quarter, as both teams scored touchdowns, setting up a climatic final period. Though the Vikings’ close games drew more headlines, the Giants also fared well in tight situations, compiling an 8-4-1 record in the regular season in contests decided by 8 points or fewer.

“That’s why we are a confident group because we’ve been in these games all year,” Barkley said at his locker. “The only difference with this game, if you don’t win, you go home.”

Barkley scored on a 2-yard run after a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter, giving the Giants a 31-24 lead with a little less than eight minutes remaining.

With time winding down for two teams that had built their seasons on thrilling comebacks, things tightened the rest of the way. The Giants failed to convert a third-down attempt near midfield when Darius Slayton dropped a pass perfectly thrown by Jones with about three minutes remaining.

The drop stopped the clock and returned the ball to the Vikings. Cousins completed four short passes before Hockenson came up short on McKinney’s big stop.