Mostly playoff novices, Giants expecting increased intensity
For most of the players on the New York Giants, the playoffs is uncharted territory.
Of the 53 men on the Giants' active roster heading into Sunday's wild-card round game at the Minnesota Vikings, only 17 players have playoff experience. Roughly half of that number can be considered starters.
Quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, offensive tackles Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence, and safeties Xavier McKinney and Julian Love are postseason novices.
Veteran kicker Graham Gano is in the minority on a team making its first postseason appearance since 2016. He's one of five players who's made it to a Super Bowl. He is willing to talk to teammates about what's going to be different. The energy and tempo will increase.
“But really, it’s the same game we’ve been playing since we were kids," Gano said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, not to make more of it than what it actually is. It’s exciting.”
McKinney could hardly hide his excitement about getting to the playoffs in his third season. His path there had some obstacles.
McKinney broke bones in his left hand in an ATV-type accident while on vacation in Mexico during the Giants' bye week in November. He had surgery and missed seven games, returning on Jan. 1. The last game he missed was against the Vikings.
“I'm excited, we're all excited here,” McKinney said. “It's been a while for sure, but we're trying not to be too excited. When you're too excited, you screw up and bad things happen.”
Wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who was acquired on waivers in early November, isn't taking that approach.
“It’s a different mode, you got to have a little bit of a different mentality and a different mindset and go in there and really attack, like tell yourself, I’m going to make these plays,” Hodgins said. “I’m going to change the game and I’m going to make a name for myself with everybody watching.”
Center Jon Feliciano was in the playoffs the past three years with Buffalo and said not much changes.
“It is a regular game, besides the fact that you go home if you lose,” Feliciano said. “When you mess up in a regular game, it's not the same as doing it here. If you’re a competitor, you never want to lose. So for me, it’s just the same old, same old.”
For Williams, the wait to get to the playoffs was eight years. He doesn't want it to be a short trip, saying now is the time for players to sacrifice.
“We’re trying to keep keep this thing riding, keep this train going and hopefully take it all the way,” Williams said. “I mean, that’s our mindset, but we can’t afford to overlook any team. We have to take a week at a time.”
Love said people outside the Giants' headquarters are probably more excited than the players. He also thinks the NFC North champion Vikings understand they will be in for a fight after beating New York 27-24 on Dec. 24 on a 61-yard field goal on the final play.
“I feel like no one is under the radar,” Love said. “They know who we are, we’ve shown it for 17, 18 weeks or whatever it is. Teams know who we are, now we’ve just got to go show it and let our game speak for itself.”
The Giants' practice Wednesday was far from normal. The number of media attending doubled to roughly 30-35 people.
Jones, who didn't play in a meaningless regular-season finale, said the players understand the stakes.
“The only way we’re going to play as well as we want to play is to prepare how we have all year, to trust our process and stick to that,” he said. “So, that’s largely been the conversation amongst the guys.”
Jones' comments echoed what coach Brian Daboll has told the team this week.
“I’ve coached players that throw up before every game, whether it’s the first game of the season, a preseason game, a playoff game,” Daboll said. “Every player is different. I think every coach is different. The big thing is be yourself. Prepare to play a good game.”