Unheralded Giants making huge impact in playoff run

While Giants fans clamored for weeks for the return of Xavier McKinney and Adoree’ Jackson from injuries, Dane Belton and Cor’Dale Flott were quietly gaining valuable experience.

Funny how that worked.

As spry as Jackson looked with Justin Jefferson and as strong as McKinney looked when he made the final tackle of the Giants’ upset 31-24 playoff win over the Vikings, the two secondary rookies performed some equally impressive things on crucial defensive ends.

Belton, who played the majority of his 10 defensive snaps in the fourth quarter, tackled TJ Hockenson and Dalvin Cook without allowing a yard after the catch. Afloat, who only played three snaps, replaced starter Fabian Moreau and interrupted a third and eighth pass in a single coverage, poking his arm into KJ Osborn’s chest and tearing up the timeless football script of immediately challenging a player coming cold off the bench .

Flott made six starts and hadn’t played fewer than 19 defensive snaps in any game he’d been healthy for since Week 1, but was ready in the final two minutes and not sulking when needed. Five-game starter Belton was a healthy scratch as the Giants secured their playoff berth in Week 17 but earned a role back with his play the next week.

“Take the players credit,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “They’ve been playing games all season, they’ve gotten better and whoever we bring to the game has to be ready to go. We have great confidence in all our boys. These two guys made really critical plays.”

The list doesn’t end here, as Daboll pointed out. Here are six others that play bigger roles than expected:

LG Ben Bredeson

The Giants have rotated left guards — preseason top-2s (Shane Lemieux and Josh Ezeudu) are on injured reserve — since Bredeson returned from a sprained MCL in Week 15 to find former starter Nick Gates in his job. “They both earned the right to continue playing,” said offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. Bredeson stole the lion’s share of snaps against the Vikings (50 to Gates’ 22) and assisted on a quick attack averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

DT Ryder Anderson

One of two undrafted rookies — along with OLB Tomon Fox — on the active roster had sacks in back-to-back December games against the Commanders and Eagles. Anderson played 16 snaps in his playoff debut and has eased the burden of losing Nick Williams to season-ending injury.

RB Matt Breida

The six-year veteran had his second-lowest carries in a season (54) behind Saquon Barkley, but played his third-highest snap total of the season (21) against the Vikings. With all eyes on Barkley for bait, Brieda had back-to-back carries — an inside trap for 4 yards and a jet sweep that required three broken tackles to drop forward to earn a third-and-1 convert – to extend a third-and-1. drive quarters.

Matt Breida celebrates following the Giants' win over the Vikings on January 15.
Matt Breida celebrates following the Giants’ win over the Vikings on January 15.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

S Jason Pinnock

It looked like McKinney’s return in Week 17 after seven games could spell the end of Pinnock’s chance to be more than a core special teamer. But defensive coordinator Wink Martindale didn’t forget that Pinnock was there with two takeaways and 1.5 sacks as a fill-in starter, carving him a role as a seventh defender (seven snaps) in a blitz-able package. Pinnock (abdomen) was wounded against the Vikings.

TE Lawrence Cager

Lawrence Cage
Lawrence Cager has played a pivotal role throughout the Giants’ season.

Who said the regular season finale is meaningless? Cager (eight catches for 69 yards in Week 18) took advantage of an opportunity. The Jets’ new addition to the season scored a touchdown in Week 10 and started in Weeks 11 and 12 before disappearing with an overall snap and four inactives in a five-game streak. He reappeared in front of blocker Nick Vannett as the #2 option (24 snaps) against the pass-prone Vikings.

ILB Jarrad Davis

Neither of the camp-enlisted starters (Blake Martinez and Darrian Beavers) played a down for the Giants in the regular season. The revolving door last emerged Davis, a former first-round draft pick who worked on the December 27 Lions practice team. Davis started the playoff opener when rookie seven-game starter Micah McFadden fell to a healthy scratch.

Jarrad Davis makes a tackle during the Giants' win over the Vikings on January 15.
Jarrad Davis makes a tackle during the Giants’ win over the Vikings on January 15.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

“Every time we sign a new player, the manager of that position spends a lot of time with that player to bring him up to speed as quickly as possible,” said Daboll. “You give credit to the players because they have to come in and learn, put in extra time at night, but I’m very grateful for the guys I get to work with.”

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