EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Justin Tuck learned a long time ago how to count to 10, but he invoked that lesson this week when asked why a 7-9 final record for the Giants would be "any different" than 6-10.
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](http://www.giants.com/photos/photos/Players-to-watch-vs-Washington/877ce5a5-f6cc-4424-a6db-09d2b239707f) Players to Watch vs. Washington "Because six is the number before seven and nine is the number before 10," Tuck said.
When the season began more than three months ago, these are not the kinds of numbers the Giants thought they'd be concerned with. But their championship aspirations dissolved after a 0-6 start left no margin for error in the season's final 10 games. On Sunday, they will host Washington in MetLife Stadium hoping to reach the modest milestone of seven victories.
"Obviously, it's not the scenario that you want, but it is what it is," quarterback Eli Manning said. "This is where we are right now and you try to make the best of it and just keep playing, trying to make improvements to get better and see if you can figure out a way to get a win."
It is also an opportunity to conclude the season with two victories – the Giants won an overtime game in Detroit last week – and an impressive 10-game run that includes a 24-17 victory in Washington on Dec. 1.
"For us, you want to end the season on a high note," Tuck said. "You want to go into the offseason with at least a smile on your face for a couple days before you start reminiscing about the shortcomings of the season. That will put us at 7-3 in the last 10 games. That's something."
It's all they have, but the Giants have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into achieving that goal. They will finish third in the NFC East no matter what happens, but agree with coach Tom Coughlin, who has told them this is a very important game.
"I think it's just important to finish strong," Manning said. "We had a good win last week, which was nice. It was a close game that we were able to pull out at the end, so that was good. Obviously, you want to finish the season playing your best football. So that's our goal, to make sure that we made strides and hopefully go out on top."
"We want to finish this season the right way and show what type of football team we are," said guard David Diehl, who is expected to return to the field after missing the Detroit game with a knee injury. "We have one more opportunity to do that. We're having a great week of practice, obviously everybody's in the holiday spirit and all of that stuff, but I'll tell you this – it's coming down to X's and O's and being in the meeting room and going out there and practicing. We've had great practices and we're all here for one reason: we want to finish this season out right."
To do that, the Giants must ignore the negative voices outside their locker room who insist this is another in a string of meaningless games, some of whom insist winning does little more than cost them a desirable slot in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Coughlin, to whom every game is vital, would never entertain that theory. But he admits it can be difficult to keep a team in this predicament focused for each game.
"It's a challenge week-to-week," Coughlin said. "Naturally, (there's) the opposition, but it's more than that – it's a deeper sense of pride. People want to tell you that you don't have anything to play for, but they're full of – they don't know what they're talking about. You have everything to play for, because obviously the scrutiny is very much involved and the powers that be are evaluating your every move.
"The other thing that I think is important from my standpoint is we've been in a couple of celebratory locker rooms after Super Bowls. Well, how's it going to look if some of these guys were with us in the good times and it's not so good right now? How are we going to act? What is our statement about who we are? And what kind of example are we for the young people? So I think pride is very important. The character of a man shows up in circumstances like this. You do get stronger in adversity and we certainly are in it. The key thing in all philosophical discussions is about effort, it's about giving what you have. It's about remembering that you do have a responsibility and that you are accountable to your teammates and the franchise you play for. There are no lines of distinction. We have a game to play and we expect to play as hard as we possibly can. And I think most everybody in the room agrees on those kinds of things. It's just that sometimes it doesn't look like that on the other end."
No matter what happens on Sunday, Coughlin clearly wishes the season wasn't ending. On Friday, he was asked if he said anything to the players after their last full practice of the season.
"I don't like the word 'last,'" Coughlin said. "I actually told them today I'd like to slow it down. I'm not one that's in favor of the 16th game of the year being this weekend. I wish we had some more to play."
He won't get his wish. So the Giants will try to capitalize on their only option and end their season with a victory over Washington.