The Giants have an opportunity to be the biggest story in the NFL this week.
All they have to do is win Sunday in MetLife Stadium against a Green Bay Packers team that has started 11-0 after winning the Super Bowl last season, has won 17 consecutive games (including postseason contests, a streak that began with a victory over the Giants last Dec. 26), has won nine consecutive road games and is averaging an NFL-high 34.7 points a game.
Yes, if the Giants win, they'll be the lead story in every media outlet's NFL coverage Sunday and Monday.
The Giants aren't looking for a headline, but a victory. They have lost three consecutive games to fall to 6-5 and out of first place in the NFC East. Playing a perfect team in December brings a lot of attention. A victory would create more. But while the Giants have great respect for what the Packers have accomplished, in one respect their opponent's identity is irrelevant. The Giants simply need a win, no matter who they're playing. They would be no less determined were they playing the winless Indianapolis Colts.
"Would we love to knock Green Bay off? Yeah," said defensive end and captain Justin Tuck. "But we'd love to win this game regardless of whether they're 11-0 or 0-11. We don't really care about the fact we have the opportunity to knock off an undefeated team. We care about getting a win and getting our season back on track."
"As a competitor, what do you need to get excited about playing against a team that's undefeated, that people are saying is the best team in the NFL," tackle David Diehl asked. "That, in itself, gets you excited and fired up about this. But each and every year there are going to be things that you can sit here and say, 'Oh well, the injuries or this, or a tough road schedule.' All that stuff, if you use that, you're just making excuses for things, and I don't think any of us around here have ever made excuses for anything. You have to play, you have to move forward, and each and every year injuries do happen, and guys have to step up and make plays. There's nothing we can do to change the past. But we've got a great opportunity standing here right in front of us, playing at home against an undefeated football team, and we have to fly around and play our best game to beat these guys."
The Giants, of course, have some history playing unbeaten teams late in the season. On Dec. 13, 1998, the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos charged into Giants Stadium with a 13-0 record. They departed with their first defeat after Kent Graham threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer with 48 seconds remaining to give the Giants a 20-16 victory.
And in 2007, one of the greatest of all Giants seasons, they got two cracks at the undefeated New England Patriots. The Giants lost the regular season finale, 38-35, but enjoyed sweet revenge with their own three-point victory in Super Bowl XLII, 17-14, saddling that Patriots team for eternity with an 18-1 record.
Now they get another late-season shot at a team with an unblemished record, one, like the Patriots did with Tom Brady, features the most productive quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers.
But not everyone admits that playing a December game against a team with a zero in the loss column naturally results in extra motivation.
"It doesn't really mean a whole lot to me," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "I'm sure to some of the veteran players in this locker room, that doesn't mean a whole lot to them, either. You look at what happened to them in the '07-'08 season and there was another team that had a zero and they put a one in there. They present a big challenge, no question about it. But we're up for it. We're excited about it. Competitors always want to play against the best, any competitor worth their salt. So this is an opportunity to have them here at home. It's going to be a great environment, a great atmosphere for football, so I'm excited about it."
Canty touched on what is really the key question for the Giants this week: are they up to it? They are, after all, coming off a 49-24 loss Monday night in New Orleans in which they allowed 577 yards. Unlike their previous two defeats, when the Giants had a chance to win in the final minutes, they fell behind 21-3 at halftime and saw their deficit widen in the third quarter. The Giants had a short week of preparation, while the Packers, who played on Thanksgiving Day, have had an extra four days to rest and get ready for the game. Yesterday, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell publicly stated his unhappiness with his unit's performance against the Saints.
And did we mention the injuries? Two defensive starters, right end Osi Umenyiora and rookie middle linebacker Mark Herzlich, have been declared out of the game.
So again we ask, are the Giants up to this challenge? The players in the locker room and their coaches wonder why the point is even being raised.
"I think we have great confidence in our ability," said quarterback Eli Manning, whose opposite number will be a fellow Super Bowl MVP for the second week in a row (last week it was Drew Brees). "We've won a lot of games. We've moved the ball. We've done a lot of good things. That doesn't leave us. We feel we can go out there and compete with anybody and move the ball and score points. It's just a matter of going out there, doing it, staying patient, trusting each other. We're going to win or lose as a team. We all have to stick together. I thought we had great focus and preparation last week. We have to do that same thing this week."
"I feel we are capable of winning as long as we play like we should play," safety Kenny Phillips said. "I think it's a great opportunity. To go out there and beat this team, I think it's going to do a lot for our confidence, it's a great motivation, so I think we're playing them at the right time."
To cash in on that opportunity, the defense must improve on its performance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Like the Saints, Green Bay has a hot quarterback, several outstanding receivers and more than one productive running back. But Fewell vows the results will be different.
The Giants never did sack Brees last week. Fewell vows Rodgers won't be as comfortable in the pocket.
"We're going to get to the quarterback – period," Fewell said. "We're going to get it done."
After seeing his defense get just three sacks in three games, Tom Coughlin said that is a necessity against the Packers.
"We have to get to the quarterback," Coughlin said. "We have had a round here of a few games without a lot of pressure and that's where it all starts for us, is up front – offensively and defensively. Regardless of how they come in to protect, we've got to do something to get to the quarterback."
That's just part of the plan. The Giants know they need to play solid, mistake-free, physical football if they are to slow down the league's highest-scoring offense and give the Packers their first loss.
"We look forward to the opportunity to play these guys," Fewell said. "That's my confidence level. We're going to show up and we're going to play on Sunday. We're getting going this week. It's all about winning. It's all about being successful on the football field. I think that they got the message and we all understand what's on the line for us."
"We played Monday night against a team with a lot of weapons and we're facing another team with a lot of weapons, so we don't have to wait two or three weeks to try to get back on our feet," Phillips said. "We're facing pretty much the same team with a great offense. We have a chance to get right back on our feet and go out there and prove that we can play with a high-powered offense. Like I said, I'm looking forward to the challenge."
As is everyone else.
*Wide receiver Mario Manningham, who missed the New Orleans game, is doubtful for the Packers with a knee injury.
The better news for the Giants is that running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) and linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis and are listed as questionable. Bradshaw has missed four games and Boley sat out the last 2½ contests.
"He did okay," Coach Tom Coughlin said of Bradshaw. "He went out and worked. He's telling me all of the things that I want to hear, but he did okay. He did alright. We'll see how he is in the morning.
"He wants to play. He wants to do it. He's tried to do everything that we've asked him to do and today he practiced enough and we'll see how it is."
Bradshaw believes he showed Coughlin enough to play on Sunday.
"He wanted to see if I was comfortable on my feet and with our offense and with the Green Bay defense," Bradshaw said. "I think I satisfied him and I satisfied myself as well.
"I am happy to be out there. I felt great. My plan is to do everything that I was doing the last weeks that I did play. Hopefully, I can handle everything."
*Hakeem Nicks (ribs/concussion) practiced fully after missing out the previous two days and is listed as probable, as is Victor Cruz (hip), Antrel Rolle (back), Tuck (ankle) and Derrick Martin (hamstring).
*Four Green Bay starters have been declared out of the game: linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop with calf injuries and offensive linemen Chad Clifton (hamstring/back) and Josh Sitton (knee). Hawk will miss a game for the first time in his six-year career.
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