EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** The Giants and Philadelphia Eagles have both been eliminated from playoff consideration, but don't try telling them that their season-ending meeting in MetLife Stadium tomorrow is meaningless.
Any game is crucial to the players and coaches, particularly one in which these two ancient rivals clash.
"Anytime you line up, it's important to win," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Obviously, with the last game of the year, it's very important. We've had a couple of wins. We certainly enjoy that part of it much more than the other. That offers no disrespect for the Eagles. They're an outstanding football team, and certainly we found that out first hand when we traveled there before (a 27-0 loss in Philadelphia on Oct. 12). I've talked all year about improvement and individual improvement and team improvement and progress and all of those kinds of things, and there has been a little bit of progress and I certainly would like to see it continue."
"I think anytime you get the chance to compete, we have a bunch of competitors, you relish that opportunity," Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly said. "You're playing in the National Football League. I've got a bunch of guys that love competing, got a bunch of coaches that love competing, and are excited about playing."
The Giants have plenty of incentive. A victory will enable them to finish the season with a four-game winning streak and avoid a double-digit loss season.
"We've kind of known our circumstance the last few weeks and we just want to finish strong," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We've been playing pretty good football lately. I thought we've had great focus and good practices this week, and so we want to go out and finish strong and continue our progress that we've been making these last few weeks and try to get a win versus a good team."
The game also gives the Giants an opportunity to enjoy some payback for the nationally-televised beating they absorbed 2½ months ago.
"Yeah, we got embarrassed," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "What was it? 27-0? It was embarrassing, they caught us off guard, unexpected. They went fast paced; we weren't ready for it at all. We did a great job of preparing for them this weekend, and it is going to be totally different from the first game. I guarantee you that."
The Eagles' offense operates at a high speed and against the Giants, it churned out 448 yards, including 203 on the ground, both the second-highest totals allowed by the Giants this season.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said yesterday about 60 percent of his game plan has changed since the first meeting.
"We looked at what we did, we looked at how we can improve on what we did, and how we did that," Fewell said. "We added different ideas that we studied throughout the season. We had the different ideas of thoughts that we had coming out of that football game, and then we really researched some of the thoughts that other people had in stopping that offense. It was a collaborative effort of our ideas, our thoughts, and then how other people defended them."
The Giants are confident the outcome Sunday will be more favorable than it was in October.
"They beat us pretty good last time," said running back Rashad Jennings, who missed the first Eagles game with a knee injury. "That does not leave a good taste in your mouth, but the past is the past. Records are non-existent when you are on the field. Only thing that matters is the man in front of you at that moment, that time. Obviously, we are going in to get the win, but it is not revenge. They just happen to be the next team we play and finishing up the season, you want to leave a good taste in your mouth."
"We definitely owe them one," Pierre-Paul said. "At the end of the day, it is going to be who plays the most physical, who wants it more, and who is going to come out to play."
Rookie running back Andre Williams has rushed for a team-high 678 yards, or 72 more than Jennings. But he insists that becoming the Giants' first rookie rushing leader since Joe Montgomery in 1999 means little to him.
"That's not the goal I came in with from the start," Williams said. "I wasn't really trying to win a rushing title. I wanted to get on the field and contribute and stay healthy and make it through the entire season and I was able to do that. In terms of goals on the season, I accomplished mine, no matter how it ends in terms of rushing titles."
While Jennings missed five games with knee and ankle injuries and was limited in at least three others, Williams has played in every game. Williams has two 100-yard performances in the last three games, including a 110-yard effort last week in St. Louis.
His 678 yards is the highest total by a Giants rookie since Ron Dayne had 770 in 2000. Williams has a chance to top that with another big game vs. the Eagles.
"I guess that will put me in a different category in terms of potential as a running back for the Giants, but when you look at the season, this is not a winning season," Williams said. "We didn't make it to the playoffs. It's give and take for me. I didn't feel like we've done enough to sit back on our accomplishments and say we did something this year because when you look at it we didn't. After this game on Sunday that's going to be the end of it for us and the goal is never to be done in December. You want to continue to play in January and go for a championship."
With improving young players like Williams, the Giants plan on doing that next season.