As New York sports stories go, the Giants are not to be appreciated like an Aaron Judge home run. They are not pretty or majestic or awe-inspiring in the least. In fact, they are the exact opposite of must-see TV.
So no, Daniel Jones and friends did not put on a show in the Meadowlands that belongs in the same paragraph with the show Judge put on in Milwaukee while chasing down a revered piece of baseball history. But what the Giants did do in their 19-16 victory over Carolina in their home opener was make a profound statement on the impact of coaching in professional sports.
Brian Daboll has changed absolutely everything about the Giants in two stunning weeks. He has found the one winning formula and the only winning formula that would work with a roster largely devoid of talent, and it goes like this:
Muck up the game, drag opponents into a fourth-quarter cage match, and then hope the faith his staff has put in the players inspires the confidence required to overachieve and finish with at least one more point than the bad guys.
It worked in Nashville in Week 1, by way of some hard hits on Derrick Henry, a verbal takedown of Jones on the bench, and a two-point gamble that announced a new age of Giants football.
And it worked again Sunday, when Daboll made chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what, and leaned on his kicker, Graham Gano, to nail his final two of four field goals from more than half the length of the field, including the decisive 56-yarder in the closing minutes.
Daboll made it up on the fly in winning his very first home game as an NFL head coach, again overcoming the absence of his best pass rushers, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, the absence of Aaron Robinson and Wan’Dale Robinson, and the in-game loss of Leonard Williams. Daboll figured out a way to prevail with his big-money receiver, Kenny Golladay, glued to the sideline, and without his big-talent receiver, Kadarius Toney, making any impact.
Oh, and he did something Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin didn’t do as first-year Giants coaches — open the season 2-0 — with a quarterback who has thrown for more than 280 yards only once in his 27 starts since the beginning of the 2020 season.
“We’ve got a scrappy bunch that doesn’t waver, and that’s what you appreciate,” Daboll told his players in the locker room. “We don’t waver. This is going to be a long, hard journey, it is, for all of us, OK? And the result is great. I love it. But remember, if we lost this game, it’s all about our preparation and our process, OK?”
Actually, that’s not OK. Deep down, as a member of five Super Bowl-winning staffs under Bill Belichick, Daboll knows that preparation and process aren’t enough. Your team has to learn how to win before it learns how to win championships, assuming the front office acquires the talent needed in the middle of that process to make the Lombardi Trophy possible.
Right now, the Giants barely have enough skill to survive any given Sunday. They recovered fumbles on Carolina’s opening kickoff return, and on Carolina’s first possession, and couldn’t convert either opportunity into a touchdown. After Gano made it 6-0, Daboll lost his cool like he did last week, ripping off his headset and pointing his finger at someone before waving in his Giants for an animated chat.
He can accept physical mistakes from players who are short on physical ability. But if Daboll’s Giants commit the cardinal sin of emerging from a huddle too slowly, and showing a lack of urgency, they are most definitely going to hear about it.
The home team heard it from the MetLife Stadium crowd, too, which booed the Giants off the field at halftime. In his make-or-break season, Jones recovered from that reaction — and from his near-interception late in the half — to lead the Giants on the tying 75-yard scoring drive in the third quarter.
Of equal consequence, Jones used his athleticism to run for 11 yards on the third-and-6 play that sealed the deal.
“He could’ve done a lot of different things,” Daboll said, “and he made the right decision under pressure.”
Give Jones that. He knows he’s playing for his career, and isn’t going down without a fight.
The same can be said for the entire Giants team.
“There might be games where our asses get blown out,” Daboll conceded, but most NFL games are like Sunday’s — ugly tests of fortitude. Most Giants teams of the last decade repeatedly failed those tests.
But by fielding a tough-minded team that is unafraid of the consequences of failure, Daboll spent his Sunday afternoon beating a former Giants coach (Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo) and a would-be Giants coach (Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, the early favorite before Joe Judge’s hiring). So on his walk to the winners’ locker room, Giants co-owner John Mara was asked for an assessment of the good Mr. Daboll.
Mara laughed and said, “What’s not to like?”
Best question of the day.