‘No one believed we had what it takes but us.’ Inside the NY Giants’ playoff locker room

‘No one believed we had what it takes but us.’ Inside the NY Giants’ playoff locker room

Art Stapleton

NFL writer

EAST RUTHERFORD – To truly appreciate the emotions inside the New York Giants’ locker room following Sunday’s 38-10 victory over the Colts that clinched a playoff berth, you have to go back in time.

“Look back before you look forward,” safety and co-captain Xavier McKinney said.

A year ago, the Giants were booed off the field by the MetLife Stadium crowd in their final home game.

Fans wore paper bags over their heads. The building was filled with empty seats.

The franchise was mocked league-wide when Joe Judge, fired as head coach just days later, believed the offense was so dysfunctional, the only way to preserve a 4-13 team’s dignity was to call for consecutive quarterback sneaks inside their own 5-yard line.

A year later, they were serenaded with chants of “Let’s Go Giants!” from the MetLife faithful, thousands of screaming fans refusing to leave without celebrating the turnaround led by head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen, a new regime that arrived in lock step and delivered the Giants their first trip to the postseason since 2016.

“This community, this city is demanding,” safety Julian Love told NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network. “If you play here, you have to know that. When you’re losing, it’s not fun. When you’re winning, it is. This city brings out the best in you.”

The Giants (9-6-1) have been resilient, and the belief Daboll instilled in them from Week 1 bolstered their fighting spirit, when they went to Tennessee and knocked off the Titans, winning the game when a two-point conversion from Daniel Jones to Saquon Barkley forced the home team to wilt under pressure.

On Sunday, Daboll’s Giants celebrated their biggest win in more than a decade the same way they did their first together.

They’re going to the dance, so they danced again, to the sound of the song that has become the soundtrack of this season, “Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G., which includes the fitting line after the intro: “It was all a dream.”

Tears in his eyes, emotion on his sleeves and his game day gear soaked from a sideline Gatorade bath in the closing seconds, Daboll implored his team to find a way to turn that dream into reality, and they did.

Remember, it was Daboll who promised them in their first post-game celebration together, while tapping his heart through his chest, “You got what it takes.” Nearly five months later, the Giants had manifested that sentiment.

“No one believed we had what it takes but us,” rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux said. “But that’s all that matters. We’ve still got work to do, and an opportunity to go win it all.”

Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley drive the offense. Dexter Lawrence is a massive presence as the defensive centerpiece, and there was no more dominant play than his second-half sack when he overpowered Colts All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson, ultimately using him to knock over the quarterback.

“Just knowing that, it’s more than just about ourselves. We play for each other,” Lawrence said. “We love to compete for each other, we love to just go out and put good stuff on tape and good stuff on film. There’s a lot of guys that understand their job and their roles, and we all play them.”

Center Jon Feliciano is one of the players added by team brass, and this will be his fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs, having been with Schoen and Daboll in Buffalo the last three years. He doesn’t have the Giants’ scars endured by the organization that entered this season tied with the Jets for the most losses in the NFL since 2017.

“It’s not always the best team that wins,” Feliciano quipped, busting out air quotes when saying “the best team.”

“It’s the best team that day,” he continued. “Let’s not make it a one-and-done.”

Daboll vowed that he would change the culture, as the three head coaches that preceded him did.

Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Judge all lost their jobs after two seasons, creating the opportunity for Daboll to alter the narrative, which he has done.

“Our goal – it’ll never be just to make the playoffs,” Daboll said. “That’ll never be just our goal.”

When the Giants made it back to their locker room Sunday, Daboll praised their performance. His clothes were drenched, courtesy of that soaking carried out by veterans Jihad Ward and Love.

“I grabbed the Gatorade and poured that [stuff] out on that bald-ass head,” Ward said with a laugh.

Daboll called Jones to the center of the room, giving him the honor to deliver the post-game speech typically reserved for the player of the game. Love joked that he was the one who gave Jones nudge he needed to close his breakdown with, “See you Wednesday,” twisting Daboll’s arm to give the Giants’ players two days off (Monday and Tuesday) instead of one.

That was reminiscent of Eli Manning doing the same when Jones and Love were rookies three years ago.

“Surreal,” is how Landon Collins described the scene that unfolded Sunday, a playoff-clinching party that the Giants have not had since they beat the Cowboys on the final night of the 2011 season. A month later, they were Super Bowl champions.

Collins was here in 2016 when the Giants last went to the playoffs, but that team qualified without as much fanfare, getting a spot when the Saints beat the Buccaneers. This, he said, is different because of two qualities that stand out above the rest: togetherness and accountability.

“I think we may continue to shock people,” Lawrence said.

Maybe those outside the locker room, but no one in there Sunday needs to be convinced anymore.

Daboll told the Giants they had what it takes, and given where they are now, it’s clear they believed him.

This content was originally published here.

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