EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –
The Giants have been eliminated from playoff consideration, but their season is far from finished. Five games - almost one-third of the schedule – are still to be played. Saddled with a six-game losing streak and a 3-8 record, the Giants have an opportunity to finish the season on an upswing, beginning tomorrow in Jacksonville against the 1-10 Jaguars.
"I think that is the point - finish strong," quarterback Eli Manning said this week. "We have to get this first win. It has been a while. We have been doing some good things and have been close in the last two. We played it right down to the wire. We had great opportunities, but we have to find a way to get over that hump and get a win."
The Giants slipped down the wrong side of that hump in each of their last three games. In Seattle, a 17-17 tie at the end of three quarters became a 38-17 defeat. Against San Francisco, they trailed by six late and had a first-and-goal at the four-yard line. But they couldn't score and the end result was a 16-10 loss. Last week vs. Dallas, the Giants took the lead with 3:00 remaining, only to have the Cowboys cover 80 yards and score the go-ahead touchdown in less than two minutes. The final was 31-28.
"We haven't completed a game, and finishing is the most important part in football," linebacker Jameel McClain said. "The cliché statement is 'It's not how you start, it is how you finish.' It is really the most important part we have been missing out on."
Now they can make amends, not only in a singular game, but for the season. It won't open the door to a playoff berth, but playing better and winning games will lift spirits and demonstrate the team has plenty of fight remaining, despite their preseason goals no longer being attainable.
Manning was asked this week if there is any importance in the Giants' best-case scenario, which is to win their final five games and finish with a .500 record.
"No doubt, there is definitely, to try to win these last five, definitely," Manning said. "I think that is a great challenge, whether playoffs are in the picture or not. We are football players, we have a job to do, and let's go out there and practice hard, compete and try to win every game that you are going to play in."
Every season inevitably produces teams whose high hopes in September have dissolved to harsh disappointment before December. Many of them continue to slide. Those that enjoy some late success tap into their reserves of pride, commitment and determination and continue to compete as if a top seed is on the line.
That's exactly what the Giants expect of themselves and each other.
"This is where I am judging you the most and you should judge me the most," McClain said, "when you are fighting just for pride and just for respect and see how much pride and respect you have in yourself, you have in this organization, and you have in this city. We are going to go out there, give our all and give 100 percent, and whoever doesn't, I am going to be looking at them.
"I will be looking around at everything, I will be looking at the players, I will be looking at the fans, I will be looking at myself extra hard to make sure I am doing everything to let everyone know I have no quit in me."
If the Giants want to emulate another team in this situation, they could do worse than follow the lead of the Jaguars. Last season under first-year coach Gus Bradley, Jacksonville started 0-8 before embarking on a streak in which they won four of five games. They are struggling again this season, but have been a tough out for almost every opponent.
"We are trying to train our guys to be internally motivated," Bradley said. "They should want to strive to be their best. We believe if we can get 63 guys that are all trying to be their best, the wins will come. Each week, that is really…all our guys are driven to do is to get better with every practice and to strive to be their best."
Tom Coughlin expects his players to exhibit those same qualities. Coughlin will become the 13th man in NFL history to coach at least 300 regular-season games, and he will do so against the team he led from 1994-2002. But this is no nostalgic trip home for Coughlin.
"Every game that we play is the most important game on the schedule," Coughlin said. "That's the way I look at it. Jacksonville is next for us, we've got to do a heck of a job preparing. We're all well-aware of the fact that they went over to London and lost to the Cowboys, 31-17, and turned the ball over down close a couple of times when they could've had points, so we've got to look at all of those things. The main concern right now for me is our team. It's all about our team. That's where it has to start."
That team will demonstrate its spirit with how it plays in the next five weeks.
"You compete to get better," Manning said. "I think we are doing a lot of good things. Offensively, we played well last (week), just not well enough to win. We've got to find ways to get better in some areas and compete and we want to get a win. We work hard, we prepare hard, we are doing good things at practice, we are doing some good things in the game. You see the effort, you see the determination. We want to get a win to get that feeling back. We have to build off some of the good things that we are doing and put it all together in a game."
Get to know the Giants' opponent for their Week 13 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars