It’s back to winning ways for the first time in five weeks for the Giants as they defeat the Washington Commanders 20-12, helped by a monster performance from Kayvon Thibodeaux. Here are five things that stood out.
Primetime Likes Me
In the lead-up to Sunday’s critical game, Kayvon Thibodeaux was asked about his first game under the spotlight of Sunday Night Football, and his reply? “Prime time likes me. Y’all can use that one.” By the time the game had finished, it was fair to say that Kayvon had proven exactly what he meant.
The newly crowned NFC Defensive Player of the Week dominated the game from the get-go with three huge tackles on the Commanders first drive, but the defining moment for the young rookie came during Washington’s third drive in a play scarily similar to one from overtime two weeks ago.
With Washington backed up on their own 10-yard line thanks to a penalty, Heinicke took the snap, and before he had a chance to set himself, Thibodeaux blew past offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr., swiped the ball out of Heinicke’s hands, followed the fumble across the goal line, scooped it up, and took it in for not only the Giants’ first defensive score this season but Thibodeaux’s first since he had one as a tight end in high school.
His final stat line for the day? 12 tackles (9 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 touchdown.
The 97-Yard Drive
With the momentum changing after Thibodeaux’s touchdown, there was hope that it would invigorate the offense; however, after the Washington punt was downed on the 3-yard line, most would have expected a quick three and out. That’s not what happened, as Daniel Jones led potentially the best drive of the season so far and the Giants’ longest in eight seasons.
This was not a high-octane sprint down the field; it was more like a methodical march, with the Giants carving out an 18-play drive that took over eight and a half minutes off the clock with a short pass-heavy attack that included a clutch 4th down conversion to Richie James and culminated in a 3-yard touchdown run with Saquon Barkley lined up in the wildcat.
It is only fair that Mike Kafka should get some credit for this drive. Kafka, who has made questionable decisions at times, has overall had a successful first season as a play-caller. This is evidenced by the improvement in red-zone touchdown conversion as the Giants have moved from 32nd last year (44.74 percent) to an impressive 8th this year (63.5 percent).
Spin Move Barkley
It’s no secret that since his 152-yard showing against the Houston Texans, Barkley just hasn’t been able to get a lot going on the ground, and his stellar rushing season has stuttered. From the season opener to week 10, his average rushing yards per game was 103.4, which has dropped to a measly 38 in the last four weeks, and as such, questions about his durability have begun to be raised again.
Barkley did little to dispel those rumours in the first three quarters of Sunday’s game, as he was unable to show off his previous explosiveness, rushing 12 times for 39 yards and showing no sign of the shifty cuts he has become known for, aside from one instance during the Giants touchdown drive. In the fourth quarter, though, something switched, and Barkley started not only breaking off some chunk runs but pulling out a trio of Madden-esque spin moves that the Commanders defence could not seem to handle. This invigorated Barkley is what we need as we enter crunch time, and the fire seems to have been lit.
It would not be a Giants game without a bit of drama, though, would it? As has been customary for the Giants faithful, we found ourselves in yet another tight game entering the final two minutes and with the score at 20-12 as Washington started what would be their final drive.
Frustratingly, the Giants seemed to crumble at the worst time, as within three plays (including the kick-off return), Washington was already in the red zone after two plays. As nightmares of another 20-20 game going into overtime started to creep into existence, cornerback Nick McCloud had an excellent opportunity to ice the game but dropped the interception, giving Washington another chance.
With the hearts of Giants fans firmly in their mouths, Heinicke almost turned into the heartbreaker with a run towards the end zone that looked destined to be converted before the monstrous Thibodeaux crushed him at the 1-yard line. A one-yard touchdown by Brian Robinson was then negated by an illegal formation penalty on Terry McLaurin. Another incomplete pass followed before a controversial non-call on the game-sealing pass breakup by Darnay Holmes that, on reflection, the Giants were lucky to get away with.
The Unsung Heroes
With so many big talking points in the game, it’s tough to highlight some of the players that shone in this game, so here are a handful of my unsung heroes:
- Landon Collins: Called up from the practise squad for what was billed as a revenge game, made a number of key third-down stops.
- Jason Pinnock: In his best game of the season, had a quarterback hit, five total tackles, and forced a fumble.
- Richie James: Came up big with a couple of key catches on the 97-yard touchdown drive, including two key first-down catches.
- Ben Bredeson: Playing in his first game since October, instantly made the offensive line better while also making a key block on the Barkley touchdown run.
- Dexter Lawrence, Azzez Ojulari, and Ryder Anderson: All three got themselves a sack of Heinicke during the game, while Lawrence also forced a fumble that was recovered by Leonard Williams.
- Graham Gano: Two 50-yard field goals in the second half, both of which kept us ahead by eight points.