Giants’ Leonard Williams is enjoying his first shot at the playoffs

Leonard Williams has played 124 games in his eight NFL seasons.

His 125th game — Sunday against the Vikings in the NFC wild-card game in Minneapolis — he will cherish more than anyone because it will be his first playoff game.

It’s been a long time for Williams without even a single taste of the postseason — so long that he wondered if it could ever happen to him.

No one was happier to be on the job this week than Williams.

“Even being here working when I’m usually planning my flight to go home for the offseason is a good feeling,” he said. “I embrace the work even on a different level than usual. Right now, I’m just embracing every day we’re here. It has been a long time”.

In his rookie season with the Jets in 2015, Williams was teased that he believed contending for a playoff spot was the norm. The Jets were 10-5 that year, playing a win-and-it’s-final regular-season game against the Bills, which they lost.

Still, Williams reckoned next season with the same coaching staff and players “we’ll just do it next year.”

But the Jets went 5-11 the following year, then 5-11 again in 2017 and then 4-12 in 2018, Williams’ fourth season.

Leonard Williams
Leonard Williams appreciates his chance to play in the playoffs.

“I thought we had it my first year, so why not have it again next year?” Williams said. “And it took a long time to get another chance to make the playoffs.”

When Williams was traded to the Giants midway through the 2019 season, he figured it would be his time. But the Giants went 4-12 in 2019, then 6-10 in 2020 and were 4-13 last season.

“At first it didn’t bother me, but as time went on it was like, ‘Wow, another year of not going to the playoffs,'” Williams said.

“Eight years,” said ninth-year Giants defensive tackle Justin Ellis, who has been to the playoffs three times, as he reflected on Williams’ long wait. “This is hard…but it’s here now.”

Not only is Williams here now, but he’s one of the top players on the Giants defense who should definitely make a difference against the Vikings’ high-powered offense on Sunday.

He’s also a big reason why the Giants are in the playoffs — even though he’s battled a variety of injuries this season that have helped limit his production, with the current ailment being a nagging neck injury.

“It means a lot to me to be in the playoffs with this team,” Williams said. “It would feel amazing for me to make the playoffs and make it this far with guys that I’ve seen grind every day for years and they deserve it.”

No one in the Giants locker room deserves Sunday in Minnesota more than Williams. No one has played at a high level while working and toiling without being rewarded with a longer postseason berth than Williams.

That’s why Giants defensive line coach Andre Patterson asked Williams to address his teammates before the team’s New Year’s Day game against the Colts that would ultimately clinch a playoff spot for the Giants.

“I had him talk to the team, especially the younger guys, to make them understand that this opportunity doesn’t come around all the time,” Patterson said Friday. “He stood up and talked to the team about how his senior year was [the Jets] it was 10 something and all they had to do was win the last game [against Buffalo] and it’s in.

“When they lost the game, he thinks with this team he’s going to be there a lot of times … and he’s never been in that situation before.”

Leonard Williams, left, participates in drills during Giants practice Friday.
Leonard Williams, left, participates in drills during Giants practice Friday.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

So far.

“You have to appreciate the opportunity when you get it,” Patterson said.

“Part of the excitement about the playoffs is seeing these guys who haven’t made it,” Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “Seeing these guys for the first time in this … it’s like seeing a kid on Christmas morning.”

I asked Williams if he might have a moment on the sidelines before Sunday’s race when he’ll take a long look around and take a deep breath and appreciate the destination after the long wait.

“There probably will be, yes,” he said. “I know going out there on game day knowing that I’m playing and there are so many other teams that are at home, it’s going to feel special for me. I’ll embrace it while it’s there, while I have that feeling, but after the national anthem, I’ll treat it like another game.”

The reality is that Game No. 125 for Williams will be anything but another game.