FOR THE EIGHTH time this season, the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” blared over the locker room speakers. It’s a new post-win tradition for the New York Giants, started by head coach Brian Daboll, who had just led his team to a massive Week 15 victory over the Washington Commanders.
While the rest of his teammates were busy celebrating, Daniel Jones shared a personal moment with his coach. Inside the short hallway between the visitors locker room and media room, Daboll wrapped his quarterback in a hug.
“Love ya, man!” Daboll said, before Jones reciprocated the message and insisted that his coach would have to keep the admittedly awful-looking goatee he was sporting at the time.
It was less than one year earlier that Jones and Daboll had been united for what appeared to be an awkward arranged marriage: Jones is in his fourth year with the team after being the No. 6 overall pick in 2019 and Daboll is in his first year as the head coach.
This wasn’t just another win they were celebrating. It put the Giants, who had endured five straight years with double-digit losses prior to this season, on the doorstep of the playoffs. They would get there two weeks later with a 38-10 demolition of the Indianapolis Colts.
It was an accomplishment for the organization and the players, many of whom had never been on a winning team in the NFL — let alone a playoff squad. But maybe, most of all, it was a win for the program that Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen are trying to build.
Daboll and Schoen, key architects of the Buffalo Bills‘ recent success, were brought to New York to reestablish another once-proud franchise. They’ve exceeded expectations in their first year, taking a team that went 4-13 in 2021 to the playoffs, but their mission is just beginning. They’re here to replicate the Buffalo blueprint and turn the Giants into perennial playoff contenders.
“The big thing is anytime you have success early, it helps,” said quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney, who came from Buffalo last offseason along with Schoen and Daboll. “Just setting the foundation. It helps for the guys to know we’re doing the right thing. We’re on the right track. We’re building something that is going to get us to where we want to go.”
Now, they get to add playoff experience in their first season. The sixth-seeded Giants play on the road in the wild-card round Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox) against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Our foundation is built on our consistency, our approach, our work ethic, how we do things on and off the field, all those types of things,” Daboll told ESPN. “Again, like I say every week, I can live with the results. I don’t like them; I can live with them if we’re doing the right stuff. I think we have a bunch of people in our building that try to do the right things on and off the field in every department.”
WITH THE AUGUST sun overhead, Jones flipped through the pages of his latest summer reading. It was one of several old playbooks his new coach had assigned him. He sat poolside with Daboll, who had a fat cigar in tow, at Daboll’s sprawling North Jersey home. ’90’s hip-hop played in the background.
Daboll wanted to find out what made his quarterback tick, and what it was he liked best on the football field. It was the latest in regular get-to-know-you sessions between coach and quarterback.
Five months later, the two are preparing for a visit to Minneapolis, where Jones will play in the first playoff game of his four-year career. Schoen and Daboll, however, have been here before.
The Bills made the playoffs in 2017, coach Sean McDermott’s and general manager Brandon Beane’s first seasons in their new roles. It was the beginning of what they’ve built now. Buffalo is currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC and has been knocking on the door to the Super Bowl for the past three seasons.
Schoen arrived in Buffalo in May 2017 as the assistant general manager and Daboll was hired as the offensive coordinator in 2018. They already have the blueprint to early success.
“Definitely a lot of similarities,” said Tyrod Taylor, the Bills’ starting quarterback from 2015 to ’17, who now backs up Jones. “[Schoen and Daboll] came from a culture that helped kickstart it in Buffalo. Definitely not necessarily all the same things as Buffalo, but just going about business the right way, having the right attitude, putting in the work each and every day to get better and with a competitive mindset. I think that has just carried over from day one.”
Giants third-string quarterback Davis Webb spent 2019-21 with the Bills. He says veteran safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde were always talking about how they came in with the new regime in Buffalo and helped establish that culture from the ground up. They were able to build on it each year. One of the keys was the nucleus remaining intact.
“Your best players are your hardest workers and the guys buying into the leadership. Everybody else follows that way,” Webb said about why the culture was working for the Bills.
He believes the Giants have that in place, even if they’re not quite at Buffalo’s level yet.
“Absolutely it is that way here. Daniel [Jones], Saquon [Barkley], Andrew [Thomas], Xavier [McKinney], Dexter [Lawrence], Leonard [Williams] … but I think we have a little ways to go to get to that point. But at the same time, good start and everyone should be happy about it.”
A large part of the Bills’ continued progression is the work Daboll did with quarterback Josh Allen, whom Buffalo picked No. 7 overall in the 2018 draft. Allen completed just 56% of his passes in his first two seasons, with 30 touchdowns tosses and 21 interceptions. He has completed at least 63% of his passes and thrown 35 or more touchdowns in every year since.
Daboll inherited another somewhat untapped former top-10 pick when he joined the Giants. It seemed he would once again turn to the draft after the Giants declined Jones’ fifth-year option prior to the season.
It was one of many question marks the new regime had entering its first season.
“The situation’s the situation,” Schoen said of his roster over the summer. “It’s the hand we were dealt, and we’re going to do the best we can with what we have.”
But the Giants may not need to pick a quarterback in April after all. In fact, maybe they are ahead of schedule, even by Buffalo’s standards.
Jones finished seventh among all quarterbacks this season in QBR (60.7). He was never better than 18th in any of his first three years. He also cut his turnover rate in half to 0.5/game. And he has a chance to add a playoff win to his list of improvements as the Giants will get a chance to avenge their Week 17 loss to the Vikings that came down to a 61-yard field goal.
“These games are the most meaningful games you can go play. And huge opportunities,” said Jones, who threw for a season-high 334 yards in the 27-24 loss to Minnesota. “But it’s about the team. It’s about what we do as a group and how we’re remembered collectively rather than how any individual is remembered. Think we have a group of guys with that mindset.”
THE GIANTS ARE an organization steeped in history. In the foyer of the team facility sit four sparkling trophies. Those trophies are from each of their four Super Bowl triumphs (1986, ’90, 2007, ’11).
Schoen and Daboll’s goal is to add another to the collection. After meandering through the wilderness of irrelevance the previous decade, the playoffs are at least a step in the right direction.
“We always should be in the playoffs and I’m glad we’re back where we’re supposed to be,” legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor told ESPN this week.
Daboll is no stranger to the postseason. He has been an assistant in 30 postseason games with the New England Patriots and the Bills. His teams have a 23-7 record, and he’s 5-0 in Super Bowls.
The postseason presents an opportunity many of his players, however, have never experienced. It’s also an opportunity for Daboll to ensure he has staying power, unlike Ben McAdoo, who also made the playoffs in his first year as the Giants head coach but was fired the following season after a 2-10 start.
Schoen and Daboll have been adamant about doing things the right way this time around. The Giants haven’t done anything this season to compromise their future. They shipped a talented but inconsistent wide receiver, Kadarius Toney, to the Kansas City Chiefs at the trade deadline. They are expected to be $53 million under the salary cap, even before some expected cuts.
Schoen and Daboll are in it for the long haul, trying to build something sustainable. One of their goals was to make the playoffs. Next is winning a playoff game. They’ll get the chance Sunday.
“I was talking with a couple guys about the playoffs,” McKinney said. “Obviously, this is where the legends are made. This is where if you’re a great player, you show how great you [are] in these moments. I think everybody as an individual knows that in this locker room. We still have to play as a team. That’s what we’re looking to do. But we know how important the playoffs are.”