Brian Daboll took and passed every regular-season test in his rookie year coaching the Giants, up to and including the last stop here on Sunday.
After he previously showed he could deal with a fast start, then a slump and finally an Armageddon showdown with the Commanders on Dec. 18, Week 18 brought another twist:
The Giants finished with a road game that meant nothing to them and a lot to the Eagles, who were vying for a first-round playoff bye.
So Daboll smartly did what he said he all week he would do: what was in the best interests of his team.
In this case, that meant benching his most important personnel, including not one but two quarterbacks, Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor; his biggest stars on offense and defense, Saquon Barkley and Dexter Lawrence, and . . . heck, pretty much his entire starting lineup, come to think of it.
For most of the evening, the lineup looked more like the second half of a mid-August preseason game than an early January divisional showdown.
The result, predictably, was a 22-16 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field that dropped the Giants to 9-7-1.
But the fact that they battled to the finish after trailing 16-0 at halftime, complete with feel-good moments for quarterback Davis Webb and receiver Kenny Golladay, the entire affair went about as well as it could have under the strange circumstances.
“You’re not playing walk-ons,” Daboll said afterward, praising his backups for their effort but not getting too mushy about it. “You’re playing guys that earned the right to compete on the team and play.”
Where does Daboll go from here? To Minneapolis, for a wild-card round game against the Vikings in a rematch of a highly entertaining Christmas Eve game the Vikings won, 27-24.
But let’s take a moment before the playoff hype fully unfolds to look at the bigger picture of the budding Daboll era.
As citizens of the present, all we can say is that it appears the Giants have a keeper, a guy who seemingly has mastered both the X’s-and-O’s and people relations parts of the job.
We really have no idea, though, do we?
The Giants’ two Super Bowl-winning coaches, Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin, were a combined 9-22-1 in their first seasons leading the Giants.
Ray Handley was a respectable 8-8. Dan Reeves and Ben McAdoo were 11-5. Joe Judge narrowly missed winning an NFC East title in 2020.
Check back this time next year, when Daboll presumably will have more talent on his roster but vastly higher expectations than he had this season.
Daboll did make one terrible decision this season when he used cornerback Adoree’ Jackson on punt returns and lost one of his most important players to a knee injury on Nov. 20.
Perhaps that was in the back of his mind when he and the rest of the Giants’ brain trust decided to give numerous players Sunday off.
Afterward, Daboll offered little insight into the decision, other than saying, “Some of those guys have played a lot of football, so we gave some other guys some opportunities.”
One had to wonder before the game how Daboll might handle this, given that all season he has stuck doggedly to his message that all games are to be treated the same.
Then he treated the last game differently, showing the flexibility any worthwhile leader and strategist does. It says here that he was right. But check back after the Vikings game for the only verdict that matters.
“It’s only right if it works, right?” Daboll said during the week leading up to the game. “So if you do one thing and it doesn’t work, you do the other thing and something happens, you’re wrong no matter what.
“If you go out there and lay an egg, it’s the wrong decision. If you win, it’s the right decision. So that doesn’t affect it either way.”
What went down on Sunday in Philadelphia seemed to bode well that Daboll got it right, whether or not it proves out in Minneapolis.
Barkley said, “I think it speaks volumes to the type of team that we are to have guys that don’t get the opportunity that much go out and get a shot and give Philly — who’s the No. 1 team in the NFC — a run for their money in a hostile environment against a team that was competing for a No. 1 seed.
“I think there’s beauty in that. That just speaks volumes to the team we have and the type of character and the men who are on this team.”
And of the man who sets the tone for them.