PHILADELPHIA — Brian Daboll is the first Giants coach to win his postseason debut since Dan Reeves in 1993.
Daboll is the first rookie head coach to lead his team to the divisional round since Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski in 2020.
And in Saturday night’s NFC Divisional playoff game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Daboll had a chance to become the first Giants rookie head coach ever to win two postseason games in his first year.
“You work really hard to get to this point,” Daboll said after dispatching the Minnesota Vikings, 31-24, in the Wild Card round on the road.
The last NFL first-year head coaches to win their first two games were Indianapolis’ Jim Caldwell and the Jets’ Rex Ryan in 2009.
The Giants weren’t expected to even be above .500, let alone win a playoff game in Daboll’s first year.
Here are the top five moments that brought him and the Giants to the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2016 and beyond:
In January 2022, GM Joe Schoen, Daboll and the Giants wanted to retain defensive coordinator Pat Graham from fired former head coach Joe Judge’s staff. But Graham didn’t want to stay and chose a lateral move to coordinate the Las Vegas Raiders’ defense, which became a blessing in disguise.
It allowed Daboll to bring in the DC he had promised a job if he’d been able, former Ravens coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. And Martindale’s aggressive, stingy defense became the No. 1 reason for a 6-1 start to the regular season.
The Giants defense held opponents to 18.5 points per game in those first seven: the Panthers scored 16, the Bears 12, the Jaguars 17. And that 6-1 start is the singular reason the Giants made the playoffs, given their 3-6-1 slippage down the stretch.
GOING FOR TWO
Daboll set a new tone for a beleaguered franchise in Week 1 by going for two and the win in Tennessee and getting it on a Daniel Jones shovel pass to Saquon Barkley, who fought his way into the end zone on a second-effort surge.
Many of the Giants’ players had lost confidence. They’d been in a ton of close games under Judge but had failed to close them out and win consistently. Knowing they could get a result and be rewarded in a close game was critical.
It also meant something to the players that Daboll had preached all offseason about putting games in players’ hands and being aggressive in critical moments, and then he’d practiced what he preached.
WINNING IN LONDON
The season’s primary turning point happened in Week 5 in London, when Jones led a comeback down 17-3 to defeat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, 27-22, at Tottenham Stadium.
It was the first game that Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka leaned on Jones a bit more to captain the offense, and only because they had to. But Jones played efficient, clutch football to bring them back.
And just as importantly, a ton of backups and rookies stepped up in key spots and contributed, which reflected an encouraging environment of belief in Daboll’s locker room. Players like running back Gary Brightwell, corners Nick McCloud and Justin Layne (since released), and rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger were among the many Giants who chipped in.
Daboll had a cigar in his mouth inside the winning locker room after this one. He asked that it not be photographed or reported at the time. But it was clear he knew: that was a big one. He, Jones and the Giants had just risen to the moment on an international stage.
TAKING THE TIE
Daboll played with fire not going for the win in Week 13 against the Washington Commanders in overtime, but listening to his analytics team of Ty Siam and Cade Knox and taking the 20-20 result ended up breaking ties in the final NFC standings and helping the Giants clinch their first playoff berth since 2016.
Like going for two in Week 1 in Tennessee, Daboll took a calculated gamble that paid off. His decision to play ‘not to lose’ went completely against his preseason mantra that he would stay aggressive and put games in the hands of his players, but players said he stayed transparent with them about why he made those decisions, and because they understood — and had won early in the season — they trusted it.
SETTLING DOWN IN DECEMBER
Before the Giants hosted the Eagles in Week 14, Daboll started changing his message that every game is the same. He started building up the magnitude of December games. He said this is what they play for, and the Giants had a great opportunity.
But it didn’t work. Philadelphia blasted the Giants, 48-22, at MetLife Stadium. And Daboll responded by going back to what had worked for him early in the season: staying steady and consistent, and keeping “the main thing the main thing,” as he said.
Refocusing his team on only the next game, and boringly repeating that all of the games carried the same importance, appeared to settle his team down to execute in some critical moments, to beat Washington on the road and to clinch their berth at home against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17.