A year ago, the Giants' mantra was "finish." They wanted to finish drives, games and the season as well as possible, a goal they ultimately realized when they won Super Bowl XLVI.
This might be a good time to resurrect that refrain. The Giants today returned to work looking forward to a final six-game stretch that got much more difficult while they rested on their bye.
While they spent a weekend without a game to play, the 6-4 Giants saw their lead in the NFC East cut to a single game when Dallas rallied from a 13-0 deficit to defeat Cleveland in overtime. The Cowboys improved to 5-5 and could move within a half-game of the Giants when they host Washington on Thursday.
The Giants return to action Sunday night at home against the Green Bay Packers, who yesterday won their fifth consecutive game, 24-20, in Detroit. Indeed, each of the Giants' next five opponents celebrated victories on Sunday – Green Bay, Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore. Those teams are a combined 33-17 (.660). The Giants will end their season at home against Philadelphia, which is currently 3-7 but has defeated the Giants in eight of their last nine meetings.
"It's about how you finish," wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "We put emphasis on that. Finish the deal and we've just got to finish."
No team has a more difficult final six weeks than the Giants, who look forward to meeting that challenge head on.
"That's what it's all about," coach Tom Coughlin said today. "You've got it to this point. It's certainly in our hands, in our own control. We have a one-game lead in the division. We play some very good football teams down the stretch here, but that's what it is. It's a stretch. We're excited about that part of it. We look forward to it; one game at a time."
"Everyone knows about this vaunted six-game schedule," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "But honestly, I think that puts us in a great light, a great position because we don't have any room for error. We play back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back great teams and I think this team will be up for them."
The good news for the Giants is that owning a lead puts them in control of their own destiny.
"That's the way we like it," Nicks said. "We don't want to have to depend on anybody for anything, so we've just got to go out there and take it one week at a time and prepare well and play well."
Like millions of Giants fans, Coughlin spent most of Sunday in front of a television.
"Watched a lot of football yesterday, as you all did, I'm sure," Coughlin told reporters after leading the Giants through practice at the Timex Performance Center. "Got excited, got upset, got excited, got all the emotions in play, but we're excited to be back on the field and seeing all of our guys again. Hopefully they're well rested and ready to go."
The Giants will try to break a two-game losing streak when they face the Packers. In their final two games before the bye, they lost at home to Pittsburgh (24-20) and dropped a 31-13 decision to the Bengals in Cincinnati. Before that game, the Giants had a 2.5-game lead in the NFC East. A Cowboys win and a Giants loss would leave them tied with five games remaining. The teams split their season series.
"It's crazy how quickly things are flying by and how things can change quickly," guard Chris Snee said. "We went from being comfortably in the lead to being back in a position where we're going to have to fight. We're ready to fight."
They'll have to battle on Sunday. Not only are the Packers red-hot, they'll be looking to gain some revenge against a Giants team that eliminated them from the playoffs when Green Bay was the top seed in the conference last season.
Of course, the Giants are accustomed to these late-season challenges. And they're about to face six more in the coming weeks.
"Six games left, it's a six-game season," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "We've got a one-game lead and we just want to build up that and go off of that. We control our own destiny just like you always do, every year potentially at this time. We just have to continue to win."
"You just focus on the next game," quarterback Eli Manning said. "All we can worry about is Green Bay right now, all we can worry about is trying to game plan and just get our offense back to playing at a high level. I think we're close. We're very close. We're just a little off. It's not like we've got to go and just start all over. So we're going to keep working, have a great week of preparation, great focus and go out there and give it our best effort."
They will need that and more against some of the NFL's best teams.
*Linebacker Keith Rivers was in an auto accident in California during the bye week. Coughlin said Rivers bruised his knee and was being evaluated today. "We hope that's all it is. He's being looked at."
*Safety Kenny Phillips, who missed the last six games with a knee injury, practiced today.
"He's trying to get back to it," Coughlin said. "It's probably good for him to be out there. We'll see what he's like tomorrow and Wednesday; see how much both Jacquian (Williams, who also has an injured knee) and Kenny can do."
Phillips thought he was going to play earlier this month, but seems more confident of lining up on Sunday.
"I felt good about Pittsburgh," Phillips said, "but I feel better about this week."
*The New York Giants and New York Cares will host their fifteenth annual Coat Drive this Sunday. Giants Fans are encouraged to donate their gently worn coats by bringing them to either of the Fed Ex trucks parked in front of the MetLife and Verizon Gates prior to the game, or to New York Cares volunteers who will be at every entrance gate. New York Cares is a non-profit organization that helps warm thousands of men, women and children by providing winter coats to homeless shelters, community organizations, centers for battered women, and agencies serving senior citizens across the metropolitan area. Donations are more appreciated than ever before.