New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney made the play of the day on defense in the Giants' Week 17 against Dallas, hauling in his first career interception in the end zone on the Cowboys' final drive.
Giants fans got a glimpse at McKinney's vaunted ball skills earlier in the game as well when he hauled in an interception that was called back due to a pass interference penalty.
McKinney figures to be a critical defensive building block for the Giants' long-term future, and one they were lucky enough to snag in the second round.
McKinney was the consensus top safety prospect heading into this year's draft as a standout at Alabama. Still, a slower-than-ideal combine time due to an ankle injury caused him to fall to the second round.
However, the Giants wouldn't let McKinney fall past their second-round pick and added the Alabama standout at 36th overall.
As grateful as McKinney is to be a Giant, the frustration with falling into the second round of the draft still sticks with him and is something he uses as motivation.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” McKinney said. “I’m happy with the team I’m with, the Giants. They took a chance on me when a lot of teams just passed by me.
"So I think any team we play that I know had a chance to pick me up that skipped — skipped — on me and didn’t pick me up, I take that personally. And I go into the games with that same mindset, whoever it is. So it wasn’t any extra with the Cowboys. I take that personally with every team that we play.”
McKinney was slowly worked into the defense throughout the final weeks of the season. The display he put on in Week 17 is just a small taste of what his talents can do for the Giants' defense in the future.
“As far as being out there playing, it took me a while to get going especially knowing all the rotations we were doing,” McKinney said. “And feeling like especially these last couple games I was getting into my groove. That’s why I was really hoping that we could make it to the playoffs because I was feeling like I was getting back to being myself.”
“There’s a lot more that I could have done, when I look back on the film there’s a lot of plays I missed out on that I know I could’ve made ... So it’s kind of frustrating knowing I was getting back into my rhythm and then that’s the season.”
The Giants will be hoping that McKinney's motivation manifests in more big plays like McKinney made in the regular-season finale.
McKinney, who missed 12 weeks of his rookie campaign due to a broken foot, is counting on coming back bigger and stronger than ever in his second season as he embeds himself as a critical part of a much improved Giants defensive secondary.