You know the law. You know the rule. Close only counts in horseshoes, not in the NFL. Moral victories are for teams that take January off. There are no lessons learned from losing that can’t be learned better by winning.
All right. All true. All fair.
But we’ve seen the exception to that rule. We have experienced the outlier. We saw what happened at the end of the 2007 season when a bitter Giants defeat wound up planting the seeds for the most glorious moment in franchise history.
Now, look: the Vikings are not the 2007 Patriots, who finished off their 16-0 regular season with a 38-35 win over the Giants on a Sunday night at old Giants Stadium in Week 16. And, no, the 2022 Giants are not the ’07 Giants, who we always suspected had some championship pedigree in their fibers and finally paid off on that promise in Super Bowl XLII.
But the truth is, those 2007 Giants learned how good they could be that Week 16 night.
That is what these 2022 Giants should take away from their 27-24 loss to the Vikings at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday, a game that wasn’t decided until Minnesota’s Greg Joseph bisected the uprights from 61 yards away as time expired. We can make fun of the Vikings as the luckiest 12-3 team ever, note that they are now 11-0 in one-possession games with an astonishing five-point differential on the season.
Still, they will almost certainly be the No. 2 seed in the NFC, and they have learned how to win when it is absolutely essential to win. And the Giants were there with them stride for stride. The Giants were there despite two devastating turnovers, a blocked punt and a reversed interception that turned the game around on a dime.
The Vikings are a legit playoff team. And what we should know is this: So are the Giants, even if they didn’t clinch a spot Saturday despite everything else falling their way around the league, the Seahawks losing to the Chiefs and the Lions losing to the Panthers.
“You never feel good about a loss,” head coach Brian Daboll said, and of course that is what he’s going to say. His players are professionals. He isn’t going to take them all out for pizza and hot-fudge sundaes for playing a close game.
But anyone who watched this game had to come away with the same conclusion.
The Giants might not be on the level of that handful of teams — Buffalo, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas — that can realistically expect to be playing through Feb. 12, when the Super Bowl is played in Glendale, Ariz.
But they sure belong with that next grouping: teams that could win a game, then maybe scare a top seed on the road. And given the slums in which the Giants have flopped and squatted in recent years, that’s a damn good neighborhood.
And they’re right there.
Christmas Eve proved that to a lot of folks. It definitely should have reinforced that inside the Giants’ dressing room.
“We have to go back to the drawing board,” said receiver Isaiah Hodgins, whose emergence as a reliable target for Daniel Jones has been one of many pleasing surprises for the Giants this year. “We’re a good team, had a good team effort and came up short. We could have played better, it is what it is. Now go on to the next one.
The next one is next Sunday, at home against Indianapolis on New Year’s Day, and that should be a hell of a way for the Giants to ring in 2023. Nothing is guaranteed in this game, but it sure feels like there ought to be a celebration simmering.
“Let’s get ready for the Colts,” Daboll said. “We need to fix what we need to fix and get ready for the Colts.”
They’ll be ready. Nothing about the way Daboll and his crew go about their business tells you anything else. They were sure ready Saturday, spotting the Vikings a 10-0 lead, then seizing a 13-10 advantage themselves, which reduced the 66,468 inside U.S. Bank to a whisper. The Giants don’t fear the road. They aren’t intimidated by loud buildings, or rugged opponents.
“We’ll regroup, see what we can do better,” said quarterback Daniel Jones, “and look forward to next week.”
They will be a bear in the playoffs once they officially punch their tickets. We thought that might be the case. We know it is now.