At Xavier McKinney’s lowest point, after breaking his left hand in a November off-roading accident, the Giants free safety never would have believed he’d be making a game-winning playoff tackle in January.
“Hell naw,” McKinney said at his locker after Sunday’s 31-24 Wild Card win in Minnesota. “It was low moments for me. Honestly I didn’t know when I was gonna come back or if I was gonna be able to. I tried to stay positive, but I wasn’t sure. I could only rehab, get better, try to get back out as fast as I could. But I couldn’t imagine today and what happened.”
What happened is that McKinney — with the fingers on his left hand taped together onto a splint — stood up Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson five yards short of the sticks for the game-winning turnover on downs in the Giants’ first postseason victory in 11 years.
Dexter Lawrence’s pressure up the middle forced Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to throw short of the first down marker on 4th and 8. And McKinney made sure the powerful Hockenson advanced no further, dragging him down to the ground out of bounds at the Giants’ 49-yard line.
“I knew where the sticks were,” McKinney said with a smile. “For me, my job was just to get him to the ground. I didn’t want him to catch it, but I was able to get him to the ground.”
Finishing the game was a proud moment for McKinney, and it should be.
He was embarrassed on Nov. 7 when he announced that he’d been in an ATV accident in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, during the Giants’ bye week. He sustained multiple fractures that required surgery and a long rehab.
And though he didn’t say it at the time, McKinney doubted whether he’d play again this season at all.
“You saw the X-rays? That type of injury, [the trainers] were trying to make me feel better, but the way my hand was, they didn’t really know,” he said. “I think they were trying to keep my spirits up, but honestly I didn’t know.
“I was trying to stay positive,” he added. “But the injury I had, that’s something that takes months. That really should have taken two or three months. But I was able to grind and get back.”
McKinney missed seven games and returned in under two months for the Giants’ 38-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17.
He played 48 snaps in that game, 83% of the defensive total, before the Giants pulled some starters in a blowout. And he admitted after that victory that he was tired, having not played in so long.
There were so many low points before he got back in uniform, McKinney couldn’t even pinpoint his worst one.
“I don’t even know,” he said. “I had a lot of them. I can’t really pick one.”
McKinney expressed recently that he was grateful to the Giants’ organization for their understanding and inclusive process to welcome him back from his bye week mistake, however.
And by Sunday, the 2020 second-round pick out of Alabama was ready for a full workload, logging all 57 defensive snaps and making the game-sealing play at the end.
Of course, McKinney couldn’t make all of the plays he’s used to making with his hand compromised.
He failed to catch a Cousins third quarter deep shot to Justin Jefferson that he normally would ball hawk for an interception.
Later that same drive in the early fourth quarter, he also struggled to grasp Hockenson on a gang tackle just short of a first down to force a field goal.
Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale seemingly moved McKinney down to the line of scrimmage and out of the deep third of the field after he dropped the interception try.
Head coach Brian Daboll claimed the adjustment was in response to Hockenson hitting a 19-yard post on Landon Collins on the previous drive, but the game flow shows McKinney started in the deep half on the following possession prior to the near-INT.
“That’s something that we talked about after he hit a little short post on it, and we put X on him,” Daboll said. “Good to have X back.”
“We had to make an adjustment, went to play lower in the box and that was kind of on the fly,” McKinney said, without acknowledging the specific reason for his re-assignment.
Regardless, the Giants captain is back on the field and making big plays to muster a playoff run. Considering McKinney didn’t expect to be here in the first place in November, that’s a major accomplishment.
WINK GETS A LOOK
The Indianapolis Colts have requested head coaching interviews with both Giants coordinators: Martindale on defense and Mike Kafka on offense. This is Martindale’s first interview request this cycle. It comes after he held the Eagles’ first-string offense to 22 points with mostly backups on the road in Week 18, and after the Giants defense limited Vikings star receiver Jefferson to seven catches for 47 yards in Sunday’s 31-24.
Kafka now has three teams seeking interviews: the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers and Colts. But Daboll said his offensive coordinator will not be taking any of the interviews this week, even though he is eligible to do so.
“He’s not going to do anything,” Daboll said. “Everything’s focused on Philadelphia, so this is going to be a normal week for him, for our offense. I know where his focus is. So there won’t be any interviews leading up to this game.”
Third-year slot corner Darnay Holmes made two big-time plays to blow up Vikings screen passes to running back Dalvin Cook in Sunday’s fourth quarter.
He shot upfield to tackle Cook for a 3-yard loss on 1st and 10 at the Giants’ 25 on the first play of the fourth quarter. That helped force Minnesota to settle for a field goal and a 24-24 tie on that drive.
Then after Saquon Barkley’s second TD gave the Giants a 31-24 lead, Holmes fired upfield on the first play of Minnesota’s next drive to tackle Cook on another screen for a four-yard loss. And the Vikings went three and out.
“I’m the type of guy where you get me once, it’s hard to get me twice,” Holmes, said after the win. “They ran that to the flat on the game’s first series [for six yards], and I played it with integrity, set the edge. OK. Next time around, big time play, had to go make the play.
“I knew that by taking that shot, I had to make the play,” Holmes said of leaving his spot and sprinting upfield for the tackle. “If you risk it, you gotta execute on the risk that you take. That’s something we always talk about on the back end within our system. The opportunity presented itself, and I seized the moment.”
UNCLEAR ON AZEEZ, PINNOCK
Daboll had no update on edge rusher Azeez Ojulari (quad) and safety Jason Pinnock (abdomen), who both got hurt in the win. Pinnock was taken to the hospital in Minneapolis before returning to the stadium and flying home with the team.
“We’ll go day to day with all those guys,” Daboll said.
Asked if there were any other concerns, Daboll said: “We’re in good shape after a tough game. I think nothing out of the ordinary.”