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The Morning After: The New York Giants think it's a damn fight
They're not planning for 2026. Under Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen, these new-look Giants earned an inspiring win over the Green Bay Packers in London. This is what happens when you clean house.
The hardest thing for powerful NFL people to do is to gaze into the mirror and admit their team is in a very bad place.
We shouldn’t be surprised. This is a league teeming with oversized egos, so owners and general managers and head coaches alike rarely admit they’re wrong. Much easier to rationalize the current state of affairs in the name of convenience and self-preservation and, no, billionaire owners aren’t too keen on paying people not to work so round ‘n round we go. Bad teams stay bad, spamming us with corporate mumbo jumbo like “continuity” and “cohesion” one press conference to the next as if the captains of the Titanic don’t even realize they’re ramming their organization directly into an iceberg.
Which brings us to the 2021 New York Giants. A true factory of sadness.
Bad turned to worse under Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge, yet it was as if the suits in charge were oblivious to reality. When we reported on the mass dysfunction from the Mara family on down to Judge, that was precisely the reaction from higher-ups. One unsolicited LinkedIn message was quite peculiar, but we’ll save the specifics for another day. It was laughable and it honestly made me think the Giants were prepared to do nothing but rearrange the deck chairs on this sinking ship. Then… the Giants experienced a miracle. The sort of miracle that just may have saved the franchise: They kept losing in eye-gouging fashion. They managed to dig completely new rock bottoms their final three games. From a 34-10 loss to the Eagles to a 29-3 loss to the Bears to a 22-7 loss against Washington, the boos became so deafening that John Mara was given zero choice but to listen and start from scratch.
Only then did this franchise open its mind to the idea of two independent football minds running the show.
Joe Schoen as GM. Brian Daboll as head coach.
Brighter days for the New York Giants have officially arrived. These new Giants earned a signature, 27-22 win over the Green Bay Packers across the pond. Coming back to knock out a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations — a team that’s won 13 games three straight years — is more proof that these two ex-Bills with zero ties to the Maras were the right hires. Give both Schoen and Daboll enough truth serum and they’d probably admit Year 1 wasn’t about contending for anything and here they were in a different country batting around the highest-paid player in the sport.
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First, examine the psychology of a football team, something far more valuable than anything a coach discovers on a tablet.
With 7:25 remaining in the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers fooled the Giants with two nifty play fakes in the backfield and lofted a touchdown to a wide-, wide-open Marcedes Lewis. The 38-year-old tight end spiked the ball, leapt into the air to head-butt a teammate and the Packers took a commanding 17-3 lead that should’ve decomposed the injury-ravaged Giants into a puddle of goo. Right here is when the Giants of old would proceed to lose 38-3. We saw last year’s team outright quit on Judge. Instead, this group punched back. Immediately, Daboll’s team responded with an 11-play, 86-yard drive. Saquon Barkley woke the offense up with a 40-yard scamper off a direct snap, Daniel Jones converted third-and-13 and third-and-9 with a pair of lasers, and then the Giants capped the drive off with trickeration — a razzle-dazzle, pitch, pitch, score from Daniel Bellinger.
The rookie tight end had the option to throw or run on the play. Wisely, he plowed over the goal line.
The Packers tacked on a field goal before halftime but that’d be it. They didn’t score again. The Giants bled the clock with two more marathon drives. One field goal drive lasted 11 plays and 7:03. One touchdown drive devoured 8:07 over 15 plays. Nothing reveals the unrelenting will of a team quite like this. Remember, the strength of this Green Bay team was allegedly the defense. Yet despite a rash of injuries, the Giants kept on converting. The win brought one of Daboll’s go-to lines to life. He doesn’t want any “built-in excuses.”
No wonder the head coach exited the field with an emphatic “Let’s go! Let’s f--king go!”
The Giants are a shocking 4-1. Here is what Daboll said he has seen from his team to date:
“They play hard. They do what we ask them to do. They trust in things we ask them to do. They work extremely, extremely hard. I mean, these guys—we practice hard. Practice really hard. But we try to practice smart. They play good situational football. … I thought the quarterback had an excellent game. And he’s had a few of those. Maybe his stats don’t reflect it but he’s led the team down to wins. He’s played good in crunch time. Coming back from a little bit of an ankle and, really, I give credit to all the guys and all the coaches.”
Clock management. Playcalling. Preparation. However you measure the success of a first-year head coach, Daboll has checked that box. It’s always difficult to understand just who deserves the credit for a quarterback’s success each hiring cycle. The Giants royally botched this calculation in hiring and promoting Ben McAdoo. He was a diligent worker in Green Bay but never a QB savant whispering sweet secrets into Rodgers’ ear. Unsurprisingly, McAdoo’s offense in Carolina is now equally painful to watch. A lot has gone right around Josh Allen in Buffalo. Jordan Palmer, Ken Dorsey and Stefon Diggs all deserve credit — not to mention Allen himself. But if this first month as the Giants’ head man proves anything, it’s that Daboll had as much to do with Allen’s meteoric rise as anyone in the quarterback’s inner circle.
He is completely maxing out the talent of his QB. He’s right, the numbers don’t do Jones justice. The former apple of Gettleman’s eye went 21 of 27 for 217 yards with 37 rushing yards. But he also didn’t turn the ball over. He also gritted through both a throbbing ankle and a hand oozing blood in leading New York to its biggest win in a decade.
There’s still a good chance the Giants will need to get around to finding a new franchise quarterback — Jones wasn’t this regime’s pick. But that’s a debate for another day. Until then, Jones will be put in the best position to succeed and this was the sort of win a true QB1 pulls off. If we’re going to praise Rodgers for winning games when his receiver room is decimated by injury, we all better do the same for Jones. He was without four of his top five receivers in London. Even Barkley spent a chunk of game action in a medical tent. On the other side of the ball, we’re already seeing Daboll get more out of players like Jones and Xavier McKinney and Dexter Lawrence and Adoree Jackson than Judge ever did. Jaylon Smith, scooped off the side of the NFL highway, even finished with six tackles.
On the play of the game, fourth and 1 from the New York 6 with 1:05 to go, McKinney blitzed and tipped Rodgers’ pass. The same McKinney who wasn’t used as a blitzer last season.
One of the best offseason decisions of any team was Daboll hiring Don “Wink” Martindale as his defensive coordinator.
Pushing all of the right buttons as an offensive coach is important but Daboll’s ability to squeeze the most he possibly can out of Player 1 through 53 is his best attribute. They’re all playing with the same passion he showed at the end of the game.
Ask anyone he coached in Buffalo. They loved playing for him.
Quite obviously, this was not the case for the coach he replaced.
So, without question, this is the No. 1 takeaway from Week 5 in the NFL. Once again, we see why the structure of an NFL team matters. Put this ‘22 roster from Sunday side-by-side with the 2021 roster and you could make the case that the ‘21 group is more talented. Much of this past offseason was spent shedding salary — James Bradberry is in Philly. But this coaching staff is plainly getting more out of its players than the last one. In this game of inches, they’re finding that inch in the fourth quarter. That alone could keep the Giants in the playoff hunt all season long. Big picture, the man who hired Daboll (Schoen) has gigantic decisions to make in 2023 and 2024. If you’re biding your time at QB, drafting an edge rusher and an offensive tackle is the perfect place to start.
Evan Neal has settled down after a rough start. His name didn’t come up on the broadcast beyond the introductions, always a good sign. And Kayvon Thibodeaux — a man talented enough to save the day — was a presence. Thibodeaux had two pass breakups (one off his head on the third-and-1 before McKinney’s PBU), the key pressure on Rodgers’ final Hail Mary attempt and it sure seemed like he was held all game. There’s a rare explosion to his get-off.
General competence at the top of an organization matters more than purchasing a $72 million-dollar toy like Kenny Golladay.
No longer do the Giants have a GM with an Assholes need not apply sign on his desk. (“He can be a bully,” one ex-scout said of Gettleman in Part I of our aforementioned series. “The biggest asshole in the building has that on his desk.”) No longer is a Belichick knockoff leading a state of delusion. (“When the Giants go into a game,” one longtime NFC exec said in Part III, “you just know it’s going to be a disaster.”) This hodgepodge roster has already found a way to win as many games as last season and it’s barely October. Slipping past the Chicago Bears is one thing but taking it to the Packers is a sign of real progress. We may look back at this win as one that permanently changed the franchise for good by seeping into the DNA of everything Schoen and Daboll are trying to build long term.
They’d know. They lived this in Buffalo. No way do these 2022 Bills embarrass the Pittsburgh Steelers as they did on Sunday — it was 31-3 at halftime — without foundational wins three years prior. Time will tell, but New York’s London win felt a lot like Buffalo’s 2019 Thanksgiving Day win over the Dallas Cowboys. As if they’re telling the world we better take them seriously.
This is a new NFC East.
Philadelphia is the league’s only undefeated team. Dallas has won four straight since losing Dak Prescott to a broken thumb. And it’s not even close: The most remarkable turnaround we’ve seen so far is how far the Giants have come since Judge had Jake Fromm QB-sneaking on third and long last December. By season’s end, Mara had no choice but to also resist the urge to promote from within. Maybe Kevin Abrams, the team’s longtime salary-cap guy, is good with the numbers. Naming him the GM would’ve reeked of mistakes past here.
He hasn’t been watching live college games a fraction of the time more qualified GMs like Schoen have. One particular number is forever lodged in my brain from this excellent 2018 Matthew Fairburn story. At one point, Fairburn wrote, Schoen checked the Marriott app on his phone and realized he had spent 2,600+ nights at Marriott properties i.e. eight years of his life. That’s a lot of experience watching college ball.
The Giants were willing to answer hard questions as a franchise and it’s now paying off.
Daboll gets that the NFL season is a marathon. His unique background helps. One of his main points of emphasis in camp? Building a team that won’t “flinch” when something goes awry. An injury. A bad call. A blown assignment. Adversity is bound to strike. Wins and losses are determined by what’s going on between players’ ears in that moment.
Down 17-3, vs. a four-time MVP, the New York Giants learned a lot about themselves in London.
“Every player on this roster is here for a reason,” Daboll said. “So we expect whoever it is to get ready. There’s no excuses in the National Football League. Everybody goes through it. Everybody goes through injuries. Everybody goes through down times. Everybody goes through a couple losses. That’s just… if you can’t handle that, you’re probably not made to be in the National Football League. We’ve got a long way to go still. It’s a good win. But there’s a lot of things we have to clean up. We’ll try to do that.”
Roughing the… what?
Whether or not the Marcus Mariota would’ve responded with a game-winning touchdown drive is beside the point. The NFL continued its mindless quest to find a middle ground that does not exist in the Buccaneers-Falcons game on Sunday. You’ve seen the borderline felony by now, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett harmlessly swinging Tom Brady to the ground on third and 5 with three minutes left. That sack would’ve given the Falcons a shot, yet — once again — we see the league doesn’t know what to do with itself when it comes to violence in a violent sport. If hits like this warrant penalties, the 32 owners have no choice but to make this flag football next offseason.
Is this a contact sport? Or not? Jarrett didn’t blast Brady in the head. Jarrett didn’t barrel-roll into his knee. There isn’t anything else a player tackling a quarterback can do in this instance.
The sport’s violence can make us wince in horror. We’ve seen a handful gruesome collisions this season. But violence is inherent to the sport itself. The days of safeties head-hunting receivers over the middle of the field are thankfully long gone but over-legislating physicality out of the sport to this extreme is sick. Flags like this run the risk of turning football into something completely different. Podcast king Adam Carolla loves to say society is splitting into two polar-opposite directions: “safe spaces” and “octagons.” He’s right. Either you’re OK with the nature of football or you are not.
In trying to cater to everyone, the NFL too often gets knotted up in an identity crisis. It’s high time they quit looping the infomercials telling us the game is safe.
Just be honest: It’s not, and that’s OK.
The letter of this law is written in purposely ambiguous terms. Via Rule 12, Article 11 (b): “When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down.” Anyone with a pulse could see Jarrett was not unnecessarily or violently tackling Brady. The very least an impartial official can do with three minutes is swallow his whistle.
And you’re dang right I’ll use this opportunity to plug “The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football” — pre-order on Amazon today! Mike Ditka. Ben Coates. Jeremy Shockey. Rob Gronkowski. These are the players who’ve done everything in their power to preserve the football you love.
Still trying to figure out why the Steelers attempted field goals down 24-3 and 31-3 in Orchard Park. The only logical option Mike Tomlin had at that point was to go for everything and onside kick everything because Josh Allen could not be stopped. As the great Rasheed Wallace once said: “Ball don’t lie.” Pittsburgh missed both kicks. We’ll see this again from more NFL head coaches, I’m sure, and it makes zero sense.
Feels weird to suggest the quarterback on a team that lost 38-3 played well. Given the circumstances, however, Pittsburgh has to be optimistic with Kenny Pickett’s starting debut. He’s got a quick release, athleticism and — even if Shaq Lawson’s tackle late was not dirty — you’ve got to love Pickett being so unafraid after the play.
Dan Campbell said his Lions “hit rock bottom” after a 26-0 loss to New England. He is correct. How they respond in their next game against Dallas could define their season.
Good for Aaron Jones speaking the truth. The Packers running back was asked in London about the team’s decision to throw the ball on third- and fourth-and-1 from the Giants’ 6-yard line. “I’d put my money on giving me or AJ Dillon two downs to get two yards, I’d put my money on it,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m not the quarterback. So I don’t know what A-Rod’s seeing.” Jones and Dillon combined for 19 carries. Rodgers threw the ball 39 times. That’s a losing formula for these Packers and even Rodgers himself must know that.
James Cook scored his first NFL touchdown in the blowout of Pittsburgh. He’s going to be a major part of the Bills’ offense by January. Probably sooner.
What about those pesky Jets? I don’t care if Ray Finkle was quarterbacking the Miami Dolphins in this 40-17 New York win. Holding Tyreek Hill to 6.7 yards per reception and Jaylen Waddle to three receptions is an incredible performance by Robert Saleh’s unit. Your rookie of the year one month in? Cornerback Sauce Gardner. Per PFF, Gardner allowed a 34.2 passer rating. That’s less than if a quarterback threw incomplete on every target.
Justin Jefferson torched the Bears for 154 yards on 12 receptions. This Vikings win over Chicago, however, was a testament to a defense that’s gotten into the habit of making big plays in big moments. This time, it was cornerback Cameron Dantzler forcing a fumble that sealed a win. As Dantzler said afterward, the Vikings knew their ex-teammate, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, was loose with the ball.
The decision to slide into a third and 1 and then spike the football will be hard for Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury to live down all season. What an egregious error by both quarterback and coach. Arizona should’ve been kicking from much closer than 43 yards to tie Philadelphia late. Kingsbury didn’t think it was wise to run another play with 22 seconds to go. “The risk reward,” he said, “wasn’t good enough at that point.” Woof.
If there’s a team capable of making the playoffs in spite of questions at quarterback, it’s the New Orleans Saints.
In an NFC chock-full of unknowns, here’s one thing we do know week-in and week-out: the San Francisco 49ers’ defense is phenomenal. In a 37-15 romp of Carolina, this defense finished with six sacks, nine QB hits and the Panthers converted only three of 15 third downs. (As we write this, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is officially fired. He went 11-27 in three seasons.)