EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After his team received a double dose of help in the NFL's Thanksgiving Day games, coach Tom Coughlin now wants the Giants to help themselves.
While the Giants practiced and then enjoyed their holiday dinner, two of their NFC East opponents
lost. Philadelphia fell to the Lions in Detroit, 45-15, and Dallas dropped a 33-14 decision at home to undefeated Carolina. The results dropped the Eagles to 4-7, and the Cowboys, who lost quarterback Tony Romo for the season, to 3-8.
On Sunday, the 5-5, first-place Giants will visit the 4-6 Washington Redskins. Already in control of their division destiny, the Giants can increase their lead to two games with five to play if they defeat Washington. So Coughlin on Friday had a succinct, yet vital, message to his players when they convened today.
"Take care of your own business," Coughlin said. "That's basically what it is. We're all aware. It's as interesting to the Redskins as it is to us, no doubt, so it put things into perspective. You have to take care of your own business and we know that. We've been down that road before, so hopefully we'll be able to do that."
The players said they are prepared to follow the directive. After acknowledging that Thanksgiving was a good business day for the Giants, Odell Beckham Jr. said, "you have to come out and take care of business. Can't overlook anybody ever, even with the lead in the division. One game at a time."
"Every game is big, but it's a divisional game, it counts as two," running back Shane Vereen said. "It definitely means a lot more because it's a divisional game, it definitely means a lot more because both teams are so close within the division. And so it is a big game, and at this time of the year, you want to be playing in big games."
The Giants, frankly, have missed that the last two seasons. In 2013, they were 4-6 and then 4-7, and in third place, a position they never escaped. They finished three games behind division champion Philadelphia. Last year, they were 3-7 and 3-8, and again stuck in third place, where they finished four games behind Dallas.
Now they are the NFC East frontrunners, and it's up to them to stay there.
"We're right here in the heart of it, going into December with the ability to play for something," running back Rashad Jennings said. "Leading the division, fortunate for that. It's wide open. We got an opportunity to kind of (widen) the gap this Sunday. It's not every day that somebody could wake up and say they're in the NFL playing for something."
Jennings never made the playoffs in his six previous seasons with Jacksonville, Oakland and the Giants.
"This is the first time for me," he said. "I'm excited."
So is everyone else on the team.
"It's definitely a great opportunity for us," linebacker Devon Kennard said. "But I'm taking the same mindset, just one game at a time. We have a six-game season that starts with Washington."
"We know it's an important one, in the division, and every game counts right now," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Every one is important, every one is big, and it's going to be a deciding factor in how the season ends. So we understand that and we've got to go out there and play good football."
The Giants have defeated Washington in each of their last five meetings, including a 32-21 victory on Sept. 24. They led early in the fourth quarter, 25-6. Despite his team's recent success, Coughlin quickly dismissed any notion that the Giants would overlook the Redskins.
Washington has won its last four home games, and has plenty of talent on offense, defense and special teams.
"I don't see that," Coughlin said. "Washington plays so well at home. They've done an exceptional job. Their finest output of the year offensively was at home against New Orleans (in a 47-14 victory). They ran into a very, very good football in Carolina last weekend and a couple weeks prior they played New England; there's two undefeated teams. They battled and so on and so forth. We have great respect for them, and when you see how well the quarterback has played, (Kirk) Cousins had played at home, they've done an outstanding job."
The Giants need to have their own terrific effort on Sunday.
"Right now, we're in a great situation, we're on top of the division," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We've just got to win. We've got to take it one game at a time, and that's what we're going to do."
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants face Washington