EAST RUTHEFORD, N.J. –** The Giants began and ended the pre-bye portion of their schedule with matching 27-26 losses, the latest yesterday against the defending champion and undefeated New England Patriots. That brought to four the number of games in which they owned late leads but couldn't hold on for the victory.
The defeat ended a wild and decidedly bumpy ride the last four weeks. A victory over Dallas was followed by a loss in New Orleans in which they scored 49 points and lost on a 50-yard field goal as time expired, which was followed by a victory at Tampa Bay, which was followed by the game vs. New England in which they took the lead with 1:47 left only to have the Patriots kick a game-winning 54-yard field goal with one second remaining.
As searing as those two recent defeats and the close losses to Dallas and Atlanta in the season's first two weeks were, coach Tom Coughlin believes the immediate future could be fruitful.
"We've played at a pretty high level for a few weeks now," Coughlin said. "And as I told our players today - the questions are legitimate and anticipated - but the thing you have to understand is the intensity, the ability to play against a high-powered opponent is inspirational in itself, and the great competitors will rise to the occasion. I think that will continue.
"When we come back, there's only six games left and, at this point and time, we do lead the division. That's what we've always talked about is the most direct line to where you want to go is right through the division. There's so much incentive here for our team that I can't possibly imagine not grasping this opportunity and going with it."
The Giants today began their bye week with a 5-5 record, sole possession of first place in the NFC East, and confidence that the hard lessons learned will pay off in the season's final six weeks, beginning on Nov. 29 at Washington.
But are they more like a .500 team that has struggled to establish consistency for 2½ months, or a first-place outfit that is in good position to capture its first NFC East title and postseason berth since the Super Bowl XLVI championship season in 2011?
"I feel like a first place team because that's where we are," general manager Jerry Reese said. "Obviously, I really don't want to talk about the first 10 games, the first 10 games are over. We had some chances in some of those games to come out on top. We didn't do it and we're 5-5, we're on top. The division is going to come down to a couple games at the end, probably, and we want to be one of the teams in the conversation at the end."
"(We have to) understand that we have to be playing our best football at the end of the season," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We are in a position where if we can do that, if we can start playing our best football and finding ways to win these close games, we are right where we need to be. We can be a tough team going into the playoffs.
"Obviously, it is not going to be easy. It is going to be tough. We have some tough teams to play, and we play games in the division and conference leaders, division leaders and other games. But we have to put it together and find a way to (start having everyone) do their job at a higher level. And that starts with me in making sure that we can make this push and win some football games."
They can go a long way to achieving that goal if they can play as well at the end of games as they do leading up to those final minutes. But four times this season the Giants led games late in the fourth quarter and couldn't finish off their opponents. It happened again yesterday, when the Giants had an opportunity to pull off their most significant victory of the season, against a team considered a favorite to advance to, if not win, the Super Bowl.
"We haven't finished games like we want to finish games, I think that's been an issue," Reese said. "In this league, the close games, you have to win the close games. There's not many blowout games in the National Football League, you have to win the close games. For whatever reason, we've come up short a few games at the end of the game. So these last six games, we want to win those close games at the end.
"If New England is the best team in the National Football League, which a lot of people think they are, obviously we played them to the wire yesterday. So we felt like if they're the best team, we feel like we can compete with anybody. Again, it comes down to finishing games. At the end of the game, the close games, you have to win the close games at the end, that's just the way it is in this league. I've said this plenty of times, that personnel is pretty close. Everybody has some good players, everybody has some mid-level players, everybody has some C players. But you have to win the close games, you can't beat yourself with bad fouls and turnovers and those kinds of things. You have to win the physical battle. I think we've done those things. I think there are some positive things that happened the first 10 games. A few plays here or there, our record could look a lot different. But we are where we are right now, and we're going to fight with everything we have to finish this season these last six games to try in get in the tournament."
Photo timeline from the Giants Week 10 matchup against Patriots
The Giants can do that if they take what they've learned in their disappointing losses and use that knowledge to capitalize on the opportunities that will certainly be presented in the final third of the season.
"(We have) six games to go, and we're going to try and win them all," Reese said. "We have some battle scars, obviously, from the first 10 games and hoping to make us battle-hardened and be a benefit for us going down the stretch."
"We do lead the division and when we come back, we have a divisional game," Coughlin said. "Hopefully, we'll use this time to rest and reflect a little bit and regroup, and come back and finish strong. That's what the whole break is for, for us to regroup, get healthy as best as we can, and come back and give it a hard, hard shot for the final six games of the season."