Xavier McKinney of the Giants celebrates after defeating the Ravens at MetLife...

Xavier McKinney of the Giants celebrates after defeating the Ravens at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 16, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Giants made strides this season. No doubt about that.

They were victorious in nine games after winning a total of 10 in the previous two seasons.

They grew — and were encouraged to grow — under a new coaching staff, one that did not punish players for mistakes on the practice field.

They won one playoff game and were blown out in the other. Their level is more Minnesota than Philadelphia as we sit here today. The Eagles are, and may remain, a problem.

But what are these Giants?

Under coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen, they seem to be unafraid (see: trading Kadarius Toney to Kansas City).

They can be direct (see: two days after the season, the GM said Daniel Jones will be back).

And while Daboll is a degree less introspective with the media than he was as offensive coordinator for Buffalo, it appears as if he and Schoen have won over a group of players who, generally speaking, seemed to have lost their zest for the game (see: players engaged in ping pong in the locker room, and you’d see plenty of zest. Even Daboll, truly a players’ coach, has joined in.)

In looking back, there are many players whose paths could tell a story of this season. We chose three:

Xavier McKinney, who was greatly missed while he was out.

Sterling Shepard, the longest-tenured Giant, who has seen it all since 2016.

Isaiah Hodgins, who became darn near indispensable.

And from the treatment of those players, what did we learn about Daboll and Schoen, their leadership and their compassion?


McKinney wants more

During the Giants’ bye in Week 9, McKinney went to Mexico, rode an all-terrain vehicle and had an accident that required surgery when he arrived home. He later said he almost lost three fingers.

To reporters, Daboll characterized the situation as “a private matter.”

McKinney, the free safety who accurately has described himself as “a playmaker,” missed seven games. The Giants went 2-4-1 without him.

McKinney returned for the playoff-clinching home game against the Colts.

Against the Vikings in the playoffs, McKinney made the fourth-down stop on tight end T.J. Hockenson that allowed the Giants to run out the clock and secure their first postseason victory since the 2011 season.

The Giants' Xavier McKinney breaks up a pass intended for...

The Giants' Xavier McKinney breaks up a pass intended for the Vikings' Justin Jefferson during the second half of an NFL wild-card game on Jan. 15 in Minneapolis. Credit: AP/Bruce Kluckhohn

Asked Monday in the Daboll / Schoen joint postseason news conference about McKinney, Schoen said: “He’s a young man that made a mistake. To me, really initially, it wasn’t about football. It was more about his well-being as a young man. And [Daboll and I] got younger kids. Dabs has some older than mine. But we all make mistakes. And we’ve got to learn from it. For us, it was just about supporting Xavier through that. He fought to get back. Football was secondary when we got the call. I’m just glad that he was able to play again. He’s a great kid that we look forward to working with.”

Against the Eagles in the playoffs, McKinney had the team’s only sack of Jalen Hurts.

Last Sunday, as the Giants cleaned out their lockers, McKinney said this about his immediate plans: “Rehab. I’ll be working my [tail] off. I’m laser-focused on what I need to do so we can have a great season next year.”

McKinney also reflected on where this team has been.

“From where we came from the last two years, last three years, it’s been a major improvement,” he said. “We still are going to be hungry for more, a lot hungrier. Now we just got to look to continue to build off what we’ve already built. We just got to continue to try to improve so we can be back in this situation next year.”

Sterling reputation

If there were a mayoral election in the Giants’ locker room, Shepard would win. Probably in a landslide. The wide receiver is respected, popular and available for interviews on a very regular basis. He cares deeply about his team and his teammates.

So, football gods, why has he been so unlucky with injuries?

Shepard missed most of the season with a torn ACL he suffered in September, nine months after his Achilles tendon ruptured. Talk about awful luck.

But you’d never know it in the locker room. Shepard regularly indulges reporters on any number of subjects, including Daniel Jones, Daboll, the Giants’ recent history and Odell Beckham Jr. (particularly when he was team-shopping during the season).

“Love Shep,” Schoen said. “He’s awesome. [A] juice guy all the time. He’s one of my favorites here.”

That alone won’t give Shepard a chance — a chance — to remain a Giant in 2023.

Sterling Shepard of the Giants against the Panthers at MetLife Stadium...

Sterling Shepard of the Giants against the Panthers at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 18, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Schoen referred to Shepard as “a tremendous resource around here for us.” If Shepard is deemed healthy enough to play, “that’s something we may or may not entertain,” he added.

Said Daboll, “He’s an energy-giver [and] lifts everybody up.”

Shepard said he wants to play in 2023. Wants to be healthy. Wants to be on the field catching passes from Jones.

The two have a great relationship, and Shepard has a unique perspective on Jones’ first NFL seasons. The two talk through plays, some that Jones likes, others that he may not. There is trust.

“It’s been tough because he’s never been in the same offense for more than two years,” Shepard said. “People don’t look at that and take that into account. I understand that. The way he’s handled this first year in this offense speaks to who he is and how he works. You want to be out there with people who work like that. I want to catch as many passes as I can from that dude. He’s a baller.”

If those football gods have a pulse, justice for Shepard would be being on the field with Jones in Week 1 next season.


Catching on fast

Talk about timing.

Hodgins was awarded to the Giants off waivers on Nov. 2, one day after his release by the Bills. Schoen and Daboll knew him from their days in Buffalo. He’s big, 6-4, and has football in his blood. His dad is James Hodgins, the fullback from the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf’’ days.

The Bills’ intention was to re-sign Hodgins to the practice squad. The Giants swooped in. He was a luxury in Buffalo. With the Giants, Hodgins was needed.

The 24-year-old acclimated beautifully to the Giants’ offense — which has similarities to the Bills’ offense, of course — and put in plenty of extra work with Jones.

Isaiah Hodgins of the Giants celebrates a first-half touchdown catch against...

Isaiah Hodgins of the Giants celebrates a first-half touchdown catch against the Colts at MetLife on Jan. 1. Credit: Mike Stobe

Against the Vikings in the playoffs, he caught eight passes on nine targets for 105 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown and a 32-yard catch.

Hodgins became the first Giants receiver to exceed 100 yards in a postseason game since Hakeem Nicks had 109 on 10 catches in the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI win over New England.

Hodgins finished the season with 33 receptions for 351 yards and four touchdowns.

“He’s been nothing but impressive coming in, studying the playbook, working his butt off,” offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said.

“He’s a great teammate. He does all the right things. He’s a pro. He’s one of those guys that jumped into that room and was able to add some value.”

Considerable value.

Hodgins surely will be a Giant next season. No doubt, he’s earned it.

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