EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants returned to work today after their three-day, post-Thanksgiving break and for the first time since 2016, they will enter December with a winning record and a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
Losses to Detroit and Dallas in their last two games left them with a 7-4 record. If the season ended today, the Giants would be seeded sixth in the NFC.
But there's a long way to go. The Giants have six games remaining, including five against teams currently owning winning records and three against the top teams in the conference – two vs. 10-1 Philadelphia and one against 9-2 Minnesota. The four-game gauntlet through the NFC East continues Sunday at home against the Washington Commanders, winners of three in a row and six of their last seven games and who sit a half-game behind the Giants at 7-5.
"It's definitely exciting," rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said in a virtual news conference today. "Dabs (head coach Brian Daboll) talked to us today, and he kind of gave us that idea that the beginning of the season starts now. So, everything we've done has put us in position to go for it all. So, we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. But it is a big task at hand that we have."
Thibodeaux played on three teams at the University of Oregon that were a combined 26-9 and played in three bowl games, so he is aware that having tangible goals late in the season helps players fight through mental fatigue and physical discomfort.
"Definitely," he said. "Not even just the playoffs and that, but just the idea of having those mentors like (former Giants) Michael Strahan and Carl Banks in the building – even Jessie Armstead – just to give you those insights to, 'This is where the biggest guys step up.' So, it kind of gives you that extra thing to play for – extra motivation."
Offensive lineman Nick Gates, who played every snap at center vs. the Cowboys on Thursday, said the Giants can't look too far ahead.
"We've just got to be playing consistent football and everybody has to be on the same page," Gates said. "First off, we've got to start by going 1-0 against Washington and winning this game this week. That's where our focus is for the week, and we've just got to play good football. Definitely nice to play meaningful football in December. It's the first time that's happened in my career, so it's definitely nice, it makes it mean something to you."
Thibodeaux insists no magical formula or radical change is needed for the Giants to return to the success they enjoyed in their 7-2 start.
"(We have to) just continue harping on the game plan, get everybody healthy and play for 60 minutes," he said. "I feel like that's the only place we kind of took hits. That last game we weren't able to really finish it, play for all 60 minutes and hold up on the back end. So now that we have a new fresh week, we just got to make sure we stick to our fundamentals and play for 60 minutes.
"I don't think our swagger is gone. I don't think anything about who we are, and our character is gone. I just feel like it's going to take more confidence for a lot of guys who have to step up and take on these bigger roles."
The Giants will host the Commanders and Eagles the next two weeks, their final division home games. They will then hit the road for games in Washington and Minnesota. While the Giants are playing the Eagles in Week 14, Washington will have its bye, so the Commanders will face the Giants in consecutive games.
The Giants' final two games are at home vs. Indianapolis and at Philadelphia. Those games will be played in January, but Thibodeaux knows the significance of the next few weeks.
"December football is the most important football," he said. "So, now that we're here, we definitely have to crank up the intensity, crank up the sense of urgency. But again, it's not getting too ahead of ourselves. I think it's just everybody doing their job to a high level and playing for the guy next to him. I feel like we'll come out with the outcome that we want."
Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.
*Gates was announced today as the Giants’ recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, which is administered by the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. Block was the head athletic trainer for the Baltimore Colts from 1954-77. He was also a humanitarian. The award sponsorship proceeds promote the prevention of child abuse by raising awareness of the epidemic and assisting agencies who provide for the care and treatment of abused children.
Gates suffered severe fractures of his lower left leg on Sept. 16, 2021 and did not play in another game until Oct. 30 of this year.
"I just took it step by step, day by day," Gates said. "I never tried to look too far ahead and didn't look in the past. What happened, happened, I can't control that part of it, so all I can control is my attitude and what I did every day. I just tried to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. So, that's all I tried to tell myself."
What does "courage" mean to Gates?
"Courage, it's just showing that you're not afraid but showing that you can always keep going, no matter what the case is," he said. "If you're hurt or you're having a bad day, it doesn't matter, just keep moving forward and keep going forward with it. Keep working no matter what because there's always a light at the end of the tunnel and you've just got to keep going."
*Three players on injured reserve returned to practice: linebacker Azeez Ojulari, guard Ben Bredeson and defensive back Tony Jefferson.
Ojulari, whose 8.0 sacks in 2021 were a Giants rookie record, has played in only two games this season. He last played in the victory against Chicago on Oct. 2 when he suffered a calf injury than landed him on injured reserve 20 days later.
This has been a tough year for Ojulari. He began training camp on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list with a hamstring ailment suffered in a pre-camp workout. He made his camp debut on Aug. 14 but strained his calf near the end of a joint workout with the Jets on the 25th, which forced him to the inactive list for the season's first two games. Olujari re-injured the calf vs. the Bears and has been sidelined for two months.
Bredeson started the season's first seven games at left guard before injuring his knee at Jacksonville on Oct. 23. He was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 29. The Giants have since had three starting left guards – Joshua Ezeudu at Seattle and vs. Houston, Shane Lemieux against Detroit and Jack Anderson on Thanksgiving in Dallas.
Jefferson was signed to the Giants' practice squad on Sept. 1, three days after being released by the Baltimore Ravens. He played in the season's first two games, plus the Oct. 9 contest against the Green Bay Packers in London, before going on I.R. with a foot injury.
Check out the evolution of the New York Giants' uniforms through the years.