Any list of the best players on the Giants — all of whom seemed to come up clutch during their biggest win in years — better include Graham Gano.
Don’t forget the kicker was a message in all corners of the locker room Sunday night, after Kayvon Thibodeaux scored a defensive touchdown, after Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams combined for a lead-preserving red-zone takeaway, and after hard-running Saquon Barkley put the offense on his back late in the game.
“I even talked to my wife about this: When number nine is out there, you just have confidence,” safety and special teams captain Julian Love said. “And that’s a special thing that teams can’t take for granted, to have a kicker as sure as him. He’s one of the best players on this team, honestly. He’s been a key for us this entire year.”
Look at it this way: The Commanders punted instead of allowing former Giants training-camp kicker Joey Slye to attempt a 52-yard field goal into the wind in the first quarter. Gano converted from 50 in that same direction after the fourth quarter’s two-minute warning, turning a five-point lead into a can’t-lose eight-point cushion in a 20-12 victory against the Commanders.
“It’s in, it’s money, we know we’re good,” Barkley said, mimicking a kicker’s motion as he talked. “Whatever landmark we have to get to, we’re trusting Graham. He’s one of our leaders, one of our captains, one of our big-time players — and he made a big-time kick, too.”
After missing short from 50 yards at that end of FedEx Field in warm-ups, Gano, who called the stadium with “unpredictable” winds and a hard surface his home early in his career, told head coach Brian Daboll that he could do better from longer under pressure. The conversation happened while the Giants were playing defense, leading 17-12 and preparing to go into a four-minute offense.
“Best-case, you’ve got adrenaline going during the game and I told him, ‘53, so get to the 35 [-yard line],’ ” Gano said. “Afterwards he looked at me and he said, ‘What’d you tell me?’ I was glad he had faith in me. Kicking into the wind isn’t easy. You have to hit a really pure ball from there.”
Because the Giants have the fewest offensive touchdowns in the NFL (26) and have played the most one-score games (11), long snapper Casey Kreiter, holder Jamie Gillan and Gano operate with little margin for error. It often seems that the offense goes into a shell at the 35 because three points is a near-guarantee.
Gano, who set a Giants record with 30 consecutive converted field goals spanning 2021 and 2022, is 7-for-8 from 50-plus yards this season. His only miss was a range-pushing 58 on the final play of overtime when the Giants and Commanders tied earlier in the season.
“It’s just trusting my leg and not overthinking or over-swinging,” Gano said. “Making sure I hit a good, clean ball straight and have faith in the guys in front of me: Casey and Jamie make my job easy. If they send me out there, I’m expected to make it.”
Gano missed a tackle on the final kickoff, which actually was telling to some teammates who were wondering if he might be a robot. He was checked for a concussion — and passed the test — on the sideline.
“I tell people, ‘Whenever Graham goes out there, I don’t even look anymore because I feel like it’s automatic,’ ” Williams said. “But, he’s human, you know? I saw him try to make a tackle and he looked human. When it comes to kicking, though, we can count on him, which is big time.”
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