EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Gatorade bath for the head coach returned. Fans counted down the final seconds and there were fireworks above MetLife Stadium at the final tick. Tears were shed in the locker room.
Yes, the New York Giants are finally back in the playoffs.
Daniel Jones threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more and the Giants routed the Indianapolis Colts 38-10 Sunday to return to the postseason for the first time since 2016.
“It’s a beautiful thing and I’ll be honest,” said running back Saquon Barkley who carried the team to a 6-2 start. “No one outside the men and women in that facility gave us a chance.”
Coming into the season the Giants were among the least likely teams to make the postseason.
They had five straight losing seasons, including a four-win season in 2021 that led to the firing of coach Joe Judge and general manager Dave Gettleman.
Buffalo assistant Joe Schoen was hired as general manager and he chose Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to be the coach. It was the first head coaching job for the St. Francis High School graduate raised in West Seneca.
Taking a young team, Daboll got them to focus one week at a time and to believe in themselves. It paid off as the Giants (9-6-1) overcame injuries and a 2-4-1 slide in November and early December to become the third NFC East team to qualify for the postseason, joining Philadelphia and Dallas.
Daboll was doused with Gatorade after the game, a Giants’ tradition first associated with Bill Parcells in the 1980s.
“It was sticky,” the low-key Daboll said, noting the team was given the next two days off by Jones when he broke down things after the game.
Players said the locker room was full of joy.
“Loud, dancing, laughing, so many emotions,” defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said. “It’s all of the signs of excitement. We worked hard, starting in the spring with these guys with the new coaching staff, and it’s all playing out.”
Landon Collins, one of two players from the ’16 team, broke the game open late in the second quarter with a 52-yard pick-6 as the Giants (9-6-1) put a final stamp on a surprising playoff run.
The reeling Colts (4-11-1) lost their sixth straight game, and ninth in 10.
“We still got one more week. I’ve got to keep these guys playing good football for the last week, and try to get a win and finish this season off in the right way,” Colts interim head coach Jeff Saturday said.
The Giants looked liked the high-powered Bills where Schoen and Daboll were previously.
Their point total was a season high and it was the first time the team scored at least 30 points since getting 34 in a 37-34 loss to Dallas on Oct. 11, 2020.
Jones, who saw the team not pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract when he was the No. 6 overall pick in 2019, played like Bills star Josh Allen.
The 25-year-old threw touchdown passes of 6 yards to Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins in the first half and scored on a run of 18 and 10 yards in the second half. He finished 19 of 24 for 177 yards and had 11 rushes for 91 yards.
With the crowd shouting his name, Jones left the field to a standing ovation with about 7:30 remaining in the game.
“I mean it’s just exciting. I think, like I said, we’ve been through some tough times and to be on this side of it is a lot of fun,” Jones said.
The only negative for New York was seeing rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux doing snow angels after sacking and injuring Colts quarterback Nick Foles late in the second quarter. Foles, who fell on the ball according to Saturday, walked off the field, but he was taken to the locker room on a cart. He did not return.
Thibodeaux said he was celebrating and didn’t realize Foles was hurt, adding he hopes he heals quickly.
Sam Ehlinger played the second half and threw his first NFL TD pass, a 6-yarder to Michael Pittman.