Giants’ playoff hopes are brighter after win over Commanders

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — After weeks of concern the New York Giants were letting the season slip away after a 6-1 start, their dreams of making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 are very much alive.

A somewhat unexpected 20-12 prime-time victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday night has put first-year head coach Brian Daboll’s overachievers on the cusp of the postseason.

The Giants (8-5-1) can clinch a playoff berth and give themselves and their fans an early Christmas present with a win over the NFC North champion Vikings (11-3) in Minneapolis on Saturday.

Beating the Vikings would only be one-third of the equation to make the playoffs. There are three overall scenarios involving four teams for the Giants to get a ticket to the postseason.

The first part of each scenario is the Giants need a win. They then would get in with:

— Losses by Detroit (7-7) to Carolina, and Seattle (7-7) to Kansas City.

— Losses by Detroit, and Washington (7-6-1) to San Francisco.

— Or, losses by Seattle and Washington.

The possibility has made all the recent hand-wringing, worry and distress brought on by a 1-4-1 run over the past six games seem pretty silly.

Of course, things might look darker in a week if the Giants lose and everyone else wins. The truth is, if the Giants lose their final three regular-season games, they’re going to need help to get the postseason.

On the train ride back from Washington, Daboll met with his captains, trainers, sports science group, coaching staffs and coordinators to get ready for a short week. That’s his focus, as it has been all season. Control what is in front of you.

“Every time you win a game, that’s part of the joy of being a coach — seeing the players in the locker room with a smile on their face, seeing the coaches,” Daboll said Monday. “We all know everybody in this business puts a lot of time, effort and energy into trying to get the outcome that we hope for. And when you do, it’s good to be happy about it. Our guys were excited.”

There’s no time for that now. The game plan for the Vikings will be made over the next 24 hours and practice will start Tuesday.

“That’s what you got to be,” Daboll said after the win. “I just don’t believe in riding roller coasters in this league.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The overall defense was outstanding, giving up 12 points and holding the Commanders to 1 of 10 on third down. The front four of Azeez Ojulari, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux all made big plays. Ojulari and Lawrence each had a half-sack and a forced fumble and combined for five quarterback hits. Williams had a late fumble recovery and Thibodeaux was massive.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The run defense is still struggling. Washington gained 159 yards rushing and a lot of that yardage came on plays where the runner carried the linebackers and secondary personnel an extra five yards. The last time New York held an opponent under 100 yards rushing was in late October.

STOCK UP

Thibodeaux. The rookie edge rusher showed why the Giants used the No. 5 overall pick in the draft to grab him. He dominated the game, highlighted by a second-quarter strip-sack and recovery for a touchdown that changed the flow of the game. He finished with a team-high 12 tackles, including three for losses.

STOCK DOWN

Micah McFadden. The rookie starting inside linebacker was invisible for most of his 39 plays. He finished with an assisted tackled. It’s not what’s expected in this defense. It’s probably why practice squad veteran Landon Collins got a lot of time playing in the box later in the game.

INJURIES

Daboll said the Giants seemed to come out of the game in good shape. Tight end Nick Vannett injured his shoulder, but it might not be serious. The coach had no update on when cornerback Adoree Jackson (knee) and safety Xavier McKinney (broken hand) will be ready to return from extended absences.

KEY NUMBER

5 — The Giants’ run of five straight losing seasons is over. The worst they can finish this year is 8-8-1.

NEXT STEPS

New York has three games left in the regular season. It starts with the Vikings. A home game against Indianapolis (4-9-1) is scheduled for New Year’s Day before a finale at Philadelphia against the NFC-leading Eagles (13-1). It’s a game in which the Eagles might rest starters if they have nothing at stake.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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