TEMPE — A viral video on social media pictured Kayvon Thibodeaux sitting alone by himself on the bench during Sunday’s second-half comeback, with 8:51 remaining after Saquon Barkley drew the Giants within seven points of the Cardinals.
The implication was that Thibodeaux wasn’t locked in, wasn’t celebrating with his teammates, and was isolated from the rest of the defense that was prepared to take the field.
So Thibodeaux was given a chance to respond to those accusations and perceptions on Tuesday, and he said that video didn’t reveal his indifference; it highlighted his focus and preparation to make the next play.
“When you play this game,” Thibodeaux said at the team hotel, “you start to realize — and I’m only answering it like this because I know there’s videos and there’s always narratives put out. But when you’re in a situation where the fate of the game lands on one drive or one situation, and you’re those people — the defense are the guys that are looked to to answer that — the only person I look to is God.
“So I’m sitting in that moment and praying and I guess you could say meditating, seeing and visualizing what we’re gonna do as a team,” he explained. “So for me, there’s too many people that wake up and want to put negativity out there. For us to come back and win a game, it’s nothing but positive.”
Plus, Thibodeaux said, “for a defense, everybody wants to be able to make that play when the time does come. So I think it’s more of a visualization meditation thing. Hopefully I don’t have to answer something like that in the future.”
Hopefully he doesn’t.
Unfortunately, these are the kind of perceptions or rumors that occasionally spread when a team or a player is underperforming.
The Giants (1-1) are allowing a league-worst 34 points a game as a team, and Thibodeaux, Joe Schoen’s No. 5 overall pick in 2022, has only four tackles, one solo, one quarterback hit and no sacks. He only ended up in the Cardinals box score because of one QB hit on Josh Dobbs.
Thibodeaux has high expectations for himself, too, though. And he said his stats don’t nearly tell the story of what’s happening on the field.
“Um, did you guys watch the game?” he said. “If you watched the game, it’s all scheme. Once Azeez [Ojulari] got hurt [on the opposite side], you understand you’re left in a situation on the backside. I was on the backside of a lot of those [running] plays.
“They were getting the ball out quick[ly], and once you get down in a football game, they’re not trying to win the game with the plays they’re running,” Thibodeaux added. “So for me it’s not about the stat line. Football is the only sport you can contribute to without having any stats.”
He reiterated that “a lot of the balls were run to the other side, and towards the end of the game when they started running my way, it was about setting the edge. Being able to contribute to a win felt good.”
Thibodeaux, 22, is still extremely young. He’s developing. And he’s right: a lot of the Cardinals running plays to James Conner went away from him.
He isn’t going to sweat the zero sacks, however, because he said the entire defense has to stop the run first.
“When you don’t stop the run, you don’t really have any room to pass rush,” he said. “We haven’t really buckled down on handling situations and stopping the run.”
As for the defense’s overall message, Thibodeaux said: “It’s still early, but we’ve given up a little too much. We want greatness and we strive for the best. So I don’t think as a defense as a whole we’ve been playing to the standard we set for ourselves.”
Just don’t question his commitment, because Thibodeaux said he’s locked in during those critical moments, regardless of what outsiders want to believe.
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