EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –The Giants today melded optimism with realism as they sifted through the disappointment of their overtime loss to the Jets yesterday.
Their third loss in a row and fourth in five games left them with a 5-7 record. It's not what they expected entering the final quarter of the season, but it would be good enough for a one-third share of the NFC East lead if Dallas defeats Washington Monday night.
But the Giants know they will be incapable of capitalizing on that unexpected good fortune if they don't improve their level of play, starting next Monday night, against the 5-7 Dolphins in Miami.
"We're still very much in it, but we've got to win some games and just got to start now," quarterback Eli Manning said today. "Got to start with Miami … we can't get discouraged, we can't have any quit in us, we've got to keep fighting, continue to have a great week of preparation, practice, and then perform at a higher level on game day. Just get some energy back into the locker room, get some excitement and get that winning feeling back."
"We're still in it," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "Anything can happen any given Sunday. You just have to go out there and play some great football. The tackles that we missed, we have to make those tackles, yards after the catch, we can't let that happen, and we have to get to the quarterback faster. We have to play the run even better as a defense. Basically, all of those things."
The Giants have had myriad issues. On offense, they have trouble running the ball (they're 29th in the NFL with just 88.1 yards a game). That's a big reason they struggle inside the 20, the area Tom Coughlin calls the green zone. Yesterday, they didn't score a touchdown on any of their three trips close to the Jets' goal line. They settled for two field goals and threw an interception, scoring only six of a potential 21 points. For the season, they're 31st in the league, with touchdowns on just 40 percent of their green zone trips (16 of 40).
Defensively, the Giants have allowed the most passing yards per game (314.5), in part because they have the fewest sacks (15, including three yesterday).
These are just some of the areas that require improvement if the Giants are to reverse their fortunes and succeed in the final four games.
"We'll win when we deserve to win," Coughlin said. "We haven't done enough things in order to put ourselves over the top."
Perhaps the most obvious and critical example of that is the Giants' late-game performance. The defeat to the Jets was the fifth this season in which the Giants led in the fourth quarter, the third in which the advantage was at least 10 points.
The Giants led, 20-10, when Manning's fourth-down pass to Rueben Randle was intercepted by Rontez Miles with 8:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. From then on, the Giants were outscored, 13-0, including Randy Bullock's game-winning 31-yard field goal in overtime.
Coughlin repeatedly stresses the importance of finishing games productively, but the players haven't been able to execute with the game on the line. He essentially conceded that he went for it on fourth down hoping to score a touchdown that would have given the Giants a 17-point lead, and thus give the defense a cushion against a potential Jets comeback.
"We've got to play better at some critical moments in the game," Manning said. "We do some good things, we get close, we do a lot of good things and it's just kind of that final step, those last few yards and the difference between winning games and losing games. We're just not making that crucial play to get us the win."
"The end of the game situations have been discussed many, many times over," Coughlin said. "I've tried, openly, honestly, to remove that situation from happening, from our defense from having to deal with that at the end of the game. It didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but that's been something that I've tried to aggressively take care of over the course of the season.
"We've had too many very, very close games that went the other way at the end of the game for whatever reason. It's not any one individual, it's not any one group; everyone contributes."
But it's up to individual players to take advantage of their opportunities to help the team.
"You've got to make the plays when the plays are there - that's either defense or offense," Coughlin said. "The point is made with our players, which I did today again, is every play is so critical in the game, every play. It could be one or two plays in a ballgame. I used to say five, but really this year, it could be one. One play makes the difference in a ballgame, and it's got to be the one that you make. You've got to make it, not the other guy.
"Somebody's got to make a play in order to get out of that jam, and it doesn't take a lot. It could be a fourth-and-six stop, which we thought we had the right call on when the quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) ran the ball (for a critical 15-yard gain). And we did, and we actually checked out of a line stunt that would have put someone right in front of where he came; it's craziness."
But the Giants have to stop and take control of their season. Despite their record, they still have a chance to win their division. At the very least, they want to finish the season strong, and win their last four games.
"It was a tough day today, just because we felt we had opportunities, felt we left a lot of plays out there, and just had the lead and had some chances," Manning said. "We made some mistakes, we didn't play as well as we needed to at times, but I think we'll bounce back and look forward to us getting back to work, getting back to our preparation and making plays. I think we'll be fine, just knowing - hey, we want to get a win. The only way to fix this feeling we have right now is to play better football and get a win and it'll solve some issues."
"We have got to get back to work," Coughlin said. "We have four games to go, we're going to work extra hard as a coaching staff, and the players will work hard. We've got to try and find a way to win a game and to change this negativity and so on and so forth, (and) get our momentum going in the right direction."
Photo timeline from the Giants Week 13 matchup vs. Jets