Kudos to …
Isaiah Hodgins — During a season in which GM Joe Schoen and the Giants’ front office have found several useful players on the NFL scrap heap, the former Buffalo Bills wide receiver is turning out to be the best find of all.
Hodgins, a bye week waiver claim, had a career day on Saturday. His eight receptions and 89 yards were both career-bests. He had a 7-yard touchdown catch and a brilliant 29-yard catch late in the first half that gave the Giants a scoring opportunity they eventually squandered. Hodgins did a lot of that work against eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro Patrick Peterson.
In seven games with the Giants, Hodgins now has 33 receptions and three touchdowns.
Daniel Jones — I wrote a considerable amount about Jones in my post-game ‘Valentine’s Views’ column. Jones did everything he could possibly do Saturday — 30 of 42, 344 yards, a touchdown, leading a game-tying drive, throwing a two-point conversion pass. He threw one costly, slightly off target interception — which was more a good play by Minnesota’s Patrick Peterson than a bad play by Jones.
Jones will never be Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen or Justin Herbert. I just don’t know how you could have asked him to do more on Saturday than he did.
Saquon Barkley — The Giants obviously had a pass-first game plan against a leaky Minnesota secondary. Barkley still had a huge impact with 133 total yards from scrimmage. He ran 14 times for 84 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, including a 27-yard fourth-and-2 touchdown that led to the game-tying two-point conversion.
Barkley also had eight receptions for 49 yards, both season-highs.
Dexter Lawrence — The big defensive tackle celebrated his first Pro Bowl by making life miserable for a Minnesota offensive line that was without starting center Garrett Bradbury. Lawrence finished with six tackles, one for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.
Landon Collins — I am not sure how many snaps Collins played, but he had an impact when he was on the field — both close to the line of scrimmage and in pass coverage. Collins finished with four tackles, one for loss, a sack, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.
Graham Gano — The 35-year-old placekicker has been close to automatic, at least when the kick he is asked to try is realistic, for the past three seasons. Saturday, he drilled a 55-yard field goal and a pair of 44-yarders. Gano has a franchise-record eight field goals of 50 or more yards, breaking the record of seven he set last season. He makes it look easy. It’s not.
Darius Slayton — He was not targeted as often as James or Hodgins, but caught four passes in six targets for 79 yards, including a 32-yard catch. Slayton doesn’t always catch the ball, but when he does he can make chunk plays. He also had catches for 22 and 17 yards on Saturday.
Wet Willies to …
Evan Neal’s pass protection — The rookie right tackle continued to struggle in this area. He was beaten by Danielle Hunter for a sack/fumble, but fortunately for the Giants recovered the loose ball. In the two weeks before Saturday, Neal had given up 13 combined quarterback pressures. Jones was sacked three times on Saturday and hit 11 times, and Neal seemed to be responsible for a lot of that pressure. I have to wonder how healthy Neal, who missed time with a sprained MCL earlier in the season, actually is.
Punt blocking — Jamie Gillan was having a terrific game with three punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including a 61-yarder, until the Giants’ protection broke down at the worst possible time. Minnesota blocked a Gillan punt with 4:10 remaining in the game and the Giants trailing 17-16. The Vikings took over at the Giants’ 29-yard line and turned that into a Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson 17-yard touchdown to go ahead by eight points, 24-16.
Continuing woes covering tight ends — This has been going on for years … and years … and years, through multiple coaching staffs. I can’t pin this directly on linebackers Jaylon Smith (10 tackles, one TFL, one sack, one QB hit) or Micah McFadden (eight tackles), but Minnesota tight end T.J. Hockenson had a ridiculous 13 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Even with Collins and Tony Jefferson playing more the tight end still tortured Wink Martindale’s group.
Nick McCloud’s hands — It ended up not mattering because on the play after he dropped an interception on a deep pass, the Vikings punted. Still, McCloud has now dropped interceptions in three straight games. I guess we know why he isn’t a wide receiver.
Kwillies to …
Richie James — With eight receptions on 12 targets for 90 yards, including a 33-yarder that set up a 44-yard third quarter field goal by Graham Gano that gave the Giants a 13-10 lead, James did some good things. Statistically, it was an excellent day for James, who now has a career-high 50 receptions this season.
It is, though, the two passes he didn’t catch in the fourth quarter that stood out.
James, who was wide open, dropped a third-and-5 pass that would have given the Giants a first down inside the Minnesota 30-yard line. Instead, they settled for a 55-yard Gano field goal that brought their deficit to one point, 17-16, with 6:29 to play.
James also dropped a pass with the Giants driving and needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game in the final three minutes. Jones and Barkley helped the Giants overcome that mistake, but it still happened.
Daniel Bellinger — Caught the game-tying two-point conversion pass, but had a costly first-half fumble at the Minnesota 23-yard line that ended a potential scoring drive.
Merry Christmas, Giants fans! Have a safe and happy day.