Even the Giants conceded today their triumph yesterday in New England was no routine regular season victory.
Not when you consider the opponent, the always-contending Patriots. Or the venue, Gillette Stadium, where in the regular season New England hadn't lost to anyone since 2008 or to an NFC team since 2002. And the manner in which they won, twice overcoming fourth-quarter deficits to win a certifiable thriller, 24-20, on Eli Manning's game-winning touchdown pass to Jake Ballard with only 15 seconds remaining.
Linebacker Michael Boley, a seven-year veteran, said today he couldn't remember playing in such an intense regular season game.
"It was because of who it was," Boley said. "It was a big-time opponent and we were going into their home, where they had won so many consecutive games. It kind of carried a little bit more weight."
"It gives us a great amount of confidence," Ballard said. "We knew what we could do, but winning a game like that gives us all the confidence in the world. We know we can get it done against good teams."
Coach Tom Coughlin believes the exciting finish would not have been necessary had the Giants capitalized on scoring opportunities earlier in the game. But Coughlin, who was hoisted in the air by Brandon Jacobs during a raucous locker room celebration, can certainly appreciate what transpired.
"We were able to follow the match where New England came down and scored and we took it and went down and scored again," Coughlin said. "Certainly that was a thrilling way for all of us to end that particular game and certainly be excited about the way that the game finished."
Coughlin hopes he will be able to make a similar statement about the season as a whole. The Giants' third consecutive victory improved their record to 6-2, the fifth time in eight years under Coughlin they've had that record at midseason. The Giants own a two-game lead in the NFC East.
But the Giants' schedule typically gets more challenging in the final two months and this season follows that template. Only two of the Giants' final eight games are against teams that are currently under .500. And we really mean currently. If the surging Eagles defeat Chicago Monday night, they will be 4-4. Washington, now 3-5, has the only losing record among the Giants' remaining opponents.
The second half begins Sunday in San Francisco against the 7-1 49ers, who have won six consecutive games. The Niners have the second-best record both in the NFL and among the teams the Giants have to play. Defending champion Green Bay, which is 8-0, visits MetLife Stadium on Dec. 4. Two games vs. Dallas and one each against New Orleans and the Jets are also on the slate.
"The 49ers are a very good team," Coughlin said. "They're playing very well. They're a very physical team. They've demonstrated that multiple times this year. It'll take superior preparation and a superior game – high energy, physical game for us to travel out there and win at their place. That's the point that we'll make. Hopefully, if there are other positives to be drawn from other experiences, we'll call upon that during the course of the week."
After coming up short in their bid to make the playoffs the last two years, Coughlin has talked about finishing strongly since training camp opened. Finishing drives. Finishing games, which the Giants have done the last three times they've played. And finishing the season with momentum and success. That is the team's greatest challenge in the next eight weeks.
"We've talked about finishing since day one," Coughlin said. "We talk about it every Saturday night. We talk about the catchy line from one of the videos that we've shown about how you have to finish. That's the point. We continuously talk about that and we will continue to. Do we talk about anything that has to do with the past? No. We talk about this now being an eight-game schedule and the next game is the most important game of the year. It's the game against the San Francisco 49ers. That's how we approach it.
"The entire concept for us is keeping both feet on the ground, dealing with praise as well as criticism and understanding that if you're going to have any success in this business, then your preparation has to be exceptional. You have to be prepared to pay the price, to sacrifice the other types of things in your life that could or could not be a distraction to the benefit of your team and your teammates and we'll continue to sell that."
The Giants seem to be set up for second-half success. Manning is consistently playing as well as he ever has. The team has numerous veterans who have enjoyed success, plus new contributors such as Ballard, Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul are emerging.
The team has proven it is unaffected by adversity. In the fourth quarter yesterday, the Giants took the lead by scoring a touchdown at the end of an 83-yard drive, relinquished the advantage when the Patriots scored a touchdown on an improbable fourth-and-nine pass, and recaptured the lead and won the game when Manning led the team on an 80-yard, eight-play drive in a loud, hostile stadium.
And the Giants did all that without three offensive standouts in Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks and David Baas, who missed the game with injuries.
"I feel good about what we are doing offensively," Manning said. "We're more mature. We have guys who have been here at the receiving positions. The offensive line has been here a number of years, and all of a sudden they are playing things they haven't showed all year. We have to make adjustments. We've got to be able to run some plays we haven't practiced in a few weeks. We have to call plays that we haven't talked about doing before. Our coach has great confidence in these guys that we can call some things that we haven't practiced in a month, but we can bring them back up if we need to do it. That's the advantage of having guys that have been here a number of years. Being here with coach for a number of years, you can pull some stuff out of that hat to give yourself a chance to succeed. That's fun. If they are running a few different things they haven't showed, we've got to run a couple things we haven't practiced."
It all worked yesterday in New England. The challenge is to keep it going in the second half of the season. The Giants understand that as well as anyone, which is why the euphoria of Sunday evening quickly gave way to the focus of Monday morning.
"We will enjoy the win for a little bit but turn our sights toward San Francisco," Ballard said. "We had a team meeting and watched the film. It was a good win and it is now behind us. We need to learn from the win and some of our mistakes and move on."
"You have to have a short memory when it comes to winning and losing," Boley said. "We did have a big win yesterday, but we have to put it behind us and look forward to the next game. We have a tough stretch coming ahead."
*Coughlin said it was too early to predict whether Bradshaw, Nicks and/ or Baas will play in San Francisco.
"I know that they're improving," Coughlin said. "Again, it's going to be how they feel tomorrow and to what extent they can do some things, being Tuesday, with the trainers and then the trainers will report to us as to, if anything, what they can do on Wednesday. We're hopeful. We have encouraging signs coming out of the training room, but I wouldn't go as far as to say what can be expected."
Bradshaw has a fractured bone in his foot. Will keeping him off the field for two or three weeks speed the healing process?
"We'll do whatever the doctors recommend," Coughlin said. "That will be based on how he feels and whether or not he's been able to control some of the soreness and if he is able to run and do the things that are necessary during the course of the week to prepare himself to play. Again, we'll have to wait to see exactly how he feels in order to put together some kind of plan. The medical people will, after they assess where he is this week, then they'll give us a good guide as to what they think we can do and what our expectation level will be."
*Coughlin would not commit to Prince Amukamara making his NFL debut against the 49ers. The first-round draft choice broke his foot on Aug. 6 and has not played this season. He began practicing two weeks ago.
"There has to be, in everyone's opinion, the proof – how he's performed on the practice field – before we can simply say he's ready to go," Coughlin said. "He gets better each week and everyone is thinking that the time is approaching. There are still some things that I think have to be cleared up on the practice field. When that happens we will welcome him."
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