Sports

Giants Put Comeback Just Out of Vikings’ Reach

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 his helmet off 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, and they advance to a divisional-round matchup with the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles next week.

The Giants had not appeared in the postseason since 2016, and they justifiably ranked near the bottom of most pundits’ power rankings in August. 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 during an inconsistent career plagued by turnovers and coach turnover.

But Jones has flourished under Daboll, his third head coach. He and General Manager Joe Schoen were both assistants for the Buffalo Bills before the Giants hired them last January.

The 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 first drive of the second quarter. He ran on seven plays of an 86-yard drive that seemed to end with Jones 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 just before the two-minute warning, closing the gap to 17-14 at halftime.

The shootout continued to start the third quarter. Jones found tight end Daniel Bellinger for a 9-yard touchdown pass, then Cousins threw a 3-yard connection to tight end Irv Smith, bringing the score to 24-21.

On the Vikings’ next drive, a false start penalty negated a successful fourth-down attempt, but Greg Joseph kicked a 38-yard field goal with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game, tying the score at 24. The Giants then orchestrated a 12-play drive, marching 75 yards over four minutes that concluded with a Barkley 2-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Giants a 31-24 lead with just over seven 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 perfectly thrown pass by Daniel Jones with about three minutes remaining in the game.

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

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