LONDON — It might just be that the Giants, under the direction of Brian Daboll, are actually walking the talk.
“You know, everybody talks like it but we do things during the week where we put guys in,” Daboll said not long after the Giants on Sunday came back to beat the Packers 27-22 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Yes, everyone does talk like it. Every NFL coach says the same thing or at least a version of the same thing. You know the lines by heart. Injuries happen. No one on the outside will feel sorry for you. No one cares who you don’t have available to play. Get the backups ready. Next man up.
The Giants say the same things but they don’t stop there. In the spring and on into training camp, when Daboll insisted he was going to find a use for every player on the roster, it sounded like coach-speak. That is a common refrain. The difference with Daboll is that he came to the Giants with no preconceived plan for any particular player. Everyone competes. This is why Kenny Golladay hardly got on the field at times and why Kadarius Toney hardly got on the field at times and why there is a revolving door at inside linebacker — although Jaylon Smith seems to have taken hold of a spot. This is why when David Sills or Richie James lays it on the line in practice, they get the reps at wide receiver.
“Well, I give credit to the players first because they have to prepare like they are starting,” Daboll said.
And you have to give credit to Daboll for keeping his entire roster on alert that every one of them might be called on. He conducted seven-on-seven drills this past week — that is a drill that is often seen in training camp but not during the regular season. Daboll mixed in practice squad players with players already on the roster. The message was sent: Be ready today in practice and be ready on Sunday.
“I think our coaches do a great job of getting them ready to go,” Daboll said. “[General manager] Joe [Schoen] and I talk about it all the time — your number can be called at any time. You can be brought up any time.
“Maybe it’s two weeks. Let’s make sure that you’re in the playbook, that you understand your responsibilities as a professional. Be a pro, and when you’re ready to go, again, every player on this roster is here for a reason. We expect whoever it is to get ready. There are no excuses in the National Football League. Everybody goes through it. Everybody goes through injuries. Everybody goes down at times. Everybody goes through a couple of losses. If you can’t handle that, you’re probably not made to be in the National Football League.”
The Giants are not doing this — “this” defined as winning four of their first five games under Daboll’s watch — with mirrors. Their best players are leading the charge. Saquon Barkley. Andrew Thomas. A vastly-improved Daniel Jones. Dexter Lawrence. Xavier McKinney and Julian Love at safety. Adoree’ Jackson. Leonard Williams when he was healthy and on the field. The rapidly-developing rookie, outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux.
The Giants are also doing this with guys on the back end of the roster and guys off the street. The list of players who contributed to defeat the Packers is long and varied. Resurgent Darius Slayton on offense, along with rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger — he looks like a keeper. Marcus Johnson, fresh off the practice squad, caught three passes for 35 yards. Gary Brightwell, a special teams player and rarely-used running back, plowing into the end zone from two yards out in the fourth quarter for his first NFL touchdown, subbing for Barkley and pulling the Giants even at 20. Defensive backfield subs Fabian Moreau and Justin Layne and Nick McCloud. Nick Williams and Justin Ellis, holding it down in the middle of the defensive line in place of Williams, out with a sprained knee.
The Giants continue to lose players and win games.
“Yeah, it’s crazy, right?” Lawrence said.
It might not be crazy but it is new around the Giants.
More that came out of the stirring victory in the United Kingdom:
— Daniel Jones did not look especially agile in the first half, operating on a left ankle that he sprained seven days earlier in a victory over the Bears. His legs are a big part of the offensive approach, but he attempted only one run in the first half, gaining three yards before he was shoved out of bounds and took a tumble. Jones continued to tough it out. He realized the offense needed him to get things done on the ground and he ran it nine times in the second half, gaining 34 yards. There was nothing fancy but Jones was productive in keeping the offense pushing forward. The Giants had touchdown drives of 15 plays and 91 yards and six plays of 60 yards in the fourth quarter.
“We may have thought he was going to be a little bit more limited,” Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith said. “A lot of times when the game is on the line or it’s a lot of big plays to be made, those guys who are hurt, they’re going to try to find a way to make that play. He had a lot of scrambles. It seemed like they got back to some of the game plans with a lot of their plays, QB draws, keeping the ball in his hands, making him get positive yards for their offense. I mean, we knew coming in he was probably going to be limited, but at some point, he was going to be who he’s known for being, a mobile quarterback, hurt people with his legs.”
— The 4-1 record is the best start for the Giants since they went 5-0 to open the 2009 season.
— The Giants came back from a 14-point deficit — they trailed 17-3 in the second quarter. It was their biggest comeback since Sept. 22, 2019, in Tampa. That, if you recall, was the first career start for Jones. Jones and the Giants also came back from a 13-0 deficit in this year’s season-opener in Nashville.
— That Darius Slayton, with one catch in the first four games, was a big contributor with six receptions for 79 yards was not a huge surprise to those who watched him in his first two years with the Giants. The biggest surprise was his demise, last season under the Joe Judge coaching staff and earlier this season under Daboll and his staff. Slayton has talent, has more speed than most of the targets on the roster, and, on a team with so many injuries and so many unproven players at wide receiver, it is inconceivable that he was such a non-factor. Perhaps rising up in this one game will jump-start Slayton. The passing attack needs him, with Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson all sidelined with injuries and Sterling Shepard gone for the season with an ACL tear.
— This was the first time third-year safety Xavier McKinney played against Aaron Rodgers. Beforehand, McKinney said he did not see a weakness in the Packers quarterback. After shutting Rodgers out in the second half — the Giants limited Rodgers to seven completions for 75 yards after halftime — McKinney might have had reason to sound off, but he didn’t.
“I still don’t see any weakness,” McKinney said. “He’s one of the greats for a reason, similar to Tom Brady last year. It’s hard to play these players. They’re one-of-a-kind type of players. We limited him as much as we could.