MINNEAPOLIS — First-year head coach Brian Daboll had his upstart team fully prepared. Daniel Jones played at a level well beyond his experience.
The New York Giants came confidently into Minnesota’s raucous stadium and beat the tight-finish masters at their own game.
Jones passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 78 yards in his first career playoff game for the Giants in a 31-24 wild-card round victory on Sunday that gave the Vikings their first loss in 12 one-score games this season.
“A cornerstone franchise like this with such a rich history, this is what we’re supposed to do,” wide receiver Darius Slayton said. “We’re supposed to go to the playoffs. We’re supposed to be a winning team. We’re just going to keep trying to live up to the legacy that’s been here.”
Saquon Barkley rushed for two scores, including the tiebreaker midway through the fourth quarter. Jones became the first quarterback in NFL history to hit these thresholds in a postseason game: 300-plus yards passing, two-plus passing touchdowns and 70-plus yards rushing.
The defense finished off the franchise’s first playoff win since the Super Bowl 11 years ago by swarming tight end T.J. Hockenson at midfield after a 3-yard reception from Kirk Cousins on fourth-and-8 to force a turnover on downs with 1:44 to go and no timeouts left for the Vikings (13-5).
The Giants (10-7-1) advanced to play No. 1 seed and NFC East rival Philadelphia in the divisional round next Saturday night. They converted seven of 13 third downs and had their way with a Vikings defense that has been vulnerable all season, averaging 8.3 yards per play in the first half.
“I think we’ve had some of our better games recently and found some stuff that works for us,” said Jones, who had touchdown passes to Isaiah Hodgins and Daniel Bellinger. “So we’ll keep doing it. I thought the coaching staff did a great job having us prepared.”
Cousins went 31 for 39 for 273 yards and two scores and a rushing touchdown to cap the game’s opening possession, the too-short throw to Hockenson his one glaring mistake. Cousins was more upset by his placement on the third-and-8 pass to K.J. Osborn — who had a first-half touchdown catch — that was knocked down by Cor’Dale Flott.
“There was always belief. I think that’s why it hurts, because you expect to find a way, especially the way this team has gone all year,” said Cousins, who called this “probably the toughest loss” of his 11-year career after going an NFL-record 11-0 in one-score games in the regular season.
Five years and one day after Case Keenum’s 61-yard last-play touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs gave the Vikings a 29-24 victory over New Orleans in the divisional round, Cousins finally got a postseason game in Minnesota in his fifth season with the team.
The Vikings stayed on brand by facing 10-point deficits late in the second quarter and again early in the third quarter.
Cousins, who delivered all kinds of on-target throws as he was knocked to the turf by the blitz-fueled Giants defense, hit Irv Smith Jr. for a touchdown that brought the Vikings within 24-21.
Then came the unusual — the defense got a stop.
Danielle Hunter’s sack forced the first Giants punt, and the Vikings went the other way for the tying field goal. They left behind some crucial points, though, when Cousins ran successful sneak on fourth-and-1 at the 15 that was negated by a false start on left tackle Christian Darrisaw.
Jones converted a penalty-free fourth-and-1 sneak on the next drive for the Giants. Barkley chugged into the end zone for the lead with 7:47 to go.
“There were real tears in there,” first-year coach Kevin O’Connell said outside the locker room. “There are guys that expected to have a chance to win a world championship. You’ve got to give the Giants a lot of credit.”
Cousins targeted Hockenson 11 times for 10 receptions and 129 yards, but after Justin Jefferson had four catches on the opening touchdown drive he had only three more the rest of the way and just one in the second half.
The NFL’s leading receiver, who had 133 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions in the 27-24 win over the Giants last month, almost always had a safety following him and was deftly covered by Adoree’ Jackson in the cornerback’s return from a seven-game absence to a knee injury.
“I always believe in myself, but it’s always gratifying and it’s appreciated when others believe in you,” Jackson said.