Kayvon Thibodeaux wants to win Sunday as much for his Giants teammates who have suffered through consistent disappointment in recent seasons as he does for himself.
The rookie outside linebacker won’t get too far ahead of himself, but admitted Friday he has considered the implications of beating the Colts at MetLife Stadium. A win would thrust the Giants into the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season.
“There’s still another game, but just to talk about all the work that not only I put in but the rest of my team and guys that have been here before me, the last four years of work they put in, it’s a blessing,” Thibodeaux said. “Now that we’re here and we can do it together, I am just happy to be a part of it.”
The No. 5 overall pick from Oregon in the 2022 draft has certainly played a significant role in the Giants reaching the precipice of the postseason, bringing life to a defensive unit that has become the team’s soul.
Along the way, he forced a game-winning fumble against Lamar Jackson — getting his first NFL sack on the play — in a Week 6 victory over the Ravens. But Thibodeaux’s true coming out occurred two weeks ago, when he recorded 12 tackles, including a strip-sack fumble return for a touchdown in the Giants’ victory at Washington. For that performance, he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
“I just put a target on my back now,” he said. “Everybody that was watching already hated me, but now they really hate you so I just have to keep it going, keep getting better and keep being unsatisfied.”
The season has been a progression for Thibodeaux, who sustained a sprained MCL in his right knee in the Giants’ second preseason game and gradually has improved his leg strength and agility.
“We understand that when he’s moving like he can at his peak that is a problem for the opponent,” outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins said. “He has just improved the details. It’s literally where you point your toe that can make all the difference. It sounds easy but it’s hard to do in the heat of the moment.
“Those little details create production. He continues to chase those details and the thing that you love about him is he wants to be great at all of those things. He wants to be the complete package and that is what really keeps showing up.”
Thibodeaux’s numbers include 43 tackles (28 solo), three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries and three passes defensed in 13 games. His pass-rushing skills receive the most notice, but Thibodeaux wants to be known as a complete player.
“I have always prided myself on being well-rounded, even outside of football, making sure that everything in academics and classroom is up to par,” Thibodeaux said. “In the life that we live there’s a lot of people who take pride in one thing. Everybody has that one thing they are prideful about and for me, my college coach used to say, ‘It’s how you do everything.’ So I just try to be prideful in all aspects of my life.”
It’s that kind of self-awareness that has the Giants confident they drafted not just a talented player, but also a leader.
“He just has so many good qualities as a teammate, as a guy in the locker room,” Wilkins said. “As the season goes on, some guys fatigue in those areas. He’s not one of those guys. He keeps getting better at those things. He understands the value of if we bring in a new guy, get to know that guy. Understanding the closer we are as a team the better we’re going to play and he’s going to play.”