Kayvon Thibodeaux isn’t afraid to say it.
“Sunday’s game,” he said, “is the biggest game of the year.”
Sunday’s game, against the surging Commanders, is the biggest game of the year for the Giants not merely because it is the next game. It is the biggest game of the year not merely because it is the first meaningful December in years. It is the biggest game of the year because it is the Giants’ first chance to reach the playoffs since the 2016 season.
Which makes it the biggest game in six years.
It is the biggest game of the year because it is the first of four division games and it is the first time the Giants (7-4) will be staring into the abyss of a three-game losing streak that would likely precipitate a crisis of confidence and self-doubt and land them in last place in the NFC East with the Eagles (10-1) swaggering into MetLife Stadium next Sunday.
Sunday would be the perfect time for Thibodeaux’s biggest game of the year.
Thibodeaux may be stuck on one sack for the season, but he offered compelling evidence while hounding Dak Prescott (five QB hits) on Thanksgiving that the best is yet to come — and could come now.
“I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I’m gonna be able to do,” Thibodeaux told The Post.
Thibodeaux was so disruptive against the Cowboys that it felt not unlike a feeding frenzy to him.
“It’s like a shark in the water,” Thibodeaux said. “And me, I’m not even a smack-talk guy, but because I felt the power, I felt the energy, I felt that grace that God gave me, I was able to talk a little smack out there.”
Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley need to get the game into the fourth quarter, and Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams need to control running back Brian Robinson Jr. so Thibodeaux can be the closer against Taylor Heinicke that he was against Lamar Jackson. The same kind of closer that Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan were most of the time.
“For me, I call it that Tom Brady Effect,” Thibodeaux said. “He’s the GOAT because he was able to finish those games out and get those wins. For me, that’s how I see me taking that next jump, just being able to finish games and be that defining factor on defense.”
To get to where he plans on going, Thibodeaux takes stock of the journey.
“I write notes for every game of things that I want to improve on and things that I want to hone in on, and the fact that I was able to put ’em on display at a high level, it’s definitely a blessing,” Thibodeaux said.
He has learned quickly that it demands more that his elite get-off to dominate in the NFL.
“The misconception is that my get-off is a pass-rush thing, right?” Thibodeaux said. “And I feel like when people start to realize that it’s also an IQ thing, it’s an instinct thing, it’s an understanding-the-game thing, right? You can’t play fast unless you know what’s going on. Not just honing in on the physical attributes, but understanding that there’s a whole ’nother realm that kinda feeds into that.”
It should come as no surprise that the charismatic kid from South Central Los Angeles has adapted well to the New York market.
“That temperature is dropping,” Thibodeaux said. He’s just warming up anyway.
“I think me being in New York has kinda stopped me from hitting that rookie wall,” he said. “Me being able to compartmentalize has really just helped me continue to grow through the season, not really find a dull spot but just continue to go forward.”
The more relentlessly Thibodeaux goes forward, the more Lawrence likes it.
“He allows the quarterback to step right up to me,” Lawrence said, and smiled. “It’s good to have a good edge rusher with you.”
For Thibodeaux, where there is a will there is a way.
“It’s poise,” he said. “ I try not to let my emotions get the most of me during the game, just because you always want to have that next play mentality, but yeah I try to really assert my dominance and I try to be a guy who you have to mess with. Dex always says something during the game when he’s talking to the centers and the guards, he’s like, ‘You’re gonna have to choose,’ because it’s him and Leo [Williams], they gotta choose who they’re gonna double-team. Just that mindset that you’re gonna have to block me eventually. I’m gonna keep going, I’m gonna keep going until you find a way to stop me.”
That’s the Micah Parsons mindset.
“I’m a copycat,” Thibodeaux said. “I’m not a guy who sees somebody being great and shies away from it. I’ve been watching his tape and I steal everything.”
Asked if he can be the Giants’ Parsons, Thibodeaux said: “No, I believe I can be this team’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. It’s gonna be different, it’s gonna be my own, but I think I can definitely play a big role and be a leader on this team.”
He’s having fun.
“I kinda not necessarily get away from the personal accolades, but I really want to continue to rally the team and keep that juice going. I want my play to kinda be a boost to my teammates,” Thibodeaux said.
His teammates have helped make him comfortable.
“That’s one thing that lions do,” Thibodeaux said. “When it’s time to adapt and it’s time to get in a new environment, you gotta do it with urgency.”
Lions are kings of the jungle.
“It’s all about heart, it’s all about mentality, it’s all about the will,” Thibodeaux said. “I made a joke when I got drafted that if you put me and the top-5 draft picks in a room of a fight to the death and the winner gets to go to the NFL, I’ll be in the league to this day, and that’s just my mentality that I don’t think no man could stop me, and that’s just how I’m just gonna keep going until my time comes.”
This is the right time.