In Week 16, the New York Giants lost to the Minnesota Vikings, 27-24, on a last-second Greg Joseph field goal. After that game, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale told his squad it proved the Giants have a playoff-caliber D.
"I went on the back of the plane, and I told them, 'We've got a playoff defense, guys,'" Martindale said Thursday. "'We got beat by a buzzer beater at half-court.'"
After Justin Jefferson scored a 17-yard TD with just over three minutes remaining, Martindale told his Big Blue defenders to keep battling.
"I told the coaches and I told [defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence] and [Leonard Williams], I said, 'We've got a playoff defense here, guys. Just keep playing it one play at a time,'" Martindale said. "That's when it was 24-(16). That's when we were down, that's before the offense scored (to tie the game)."
The Giants couldn't hold down Jefferson and the Vikings from winning the game in Week 16, but they'll have a chance at redemption Sunday in the wild-card rematch. Martindale believes his defense is ascending headling into the postseason rematch.
"I just think we're in the playoffs, we've built a playoff defense, and it's different ways to do it," he said. "We went obviously a different route this year than I'm used to in the past, but it's been a lot of fun, and I'm excited."
Martindale's crew has played over its head much of the season despite injuries and a lack of star talent on the back end. Big Blue allowed a 59.4 catch percentage to receivers in 2022, the fifth-lowest in the NFL. But after allowing no receivers to generate 100-plus yards in the first 10 games, the Giants allowed a wideout to go for 100 yards or more in four of their last seven contests.
How Martindale's crew defends Jefferson on Sunday will be critical. The star wideout generated 12 catches for 133 yards and a TD in Week 16, the most yards Big Blue allowed to a player this season. Fabian Moreau shadowed Jefferson on 86.3 percent of the receiver's routes in Week 16, spending 20.5 percent of those snaps in press coverage, per Next Gen Stats. Jefferson was nearly perfect on intermediate targets in Week 16, catching five of six targets for 88 yards and a touchdown, per NGS. Safety Xavier McKinney and cornerback Adoree' Jackson's potential return to the lineup after missing Week 16 could be key for the Giants' secondary attempting to slow Jefferson.
The blitz-happy Martindale, who sent extra rushers at the highest rate in the NFL in 2022 (44.7), will no doubt look to take advantage of a banged-up Vikings offensive line in the rematch. But many of Jefferson's big catches in Week 16 came when the Giants blitzed. It's a conundrum Martindale will have to find an answer for Sunday in Minneapolis.
"The biggest thing in this league is," Martindale said, "you never let one game beat you twice."