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Playoff destiny up to Giants

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The Giants have become Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates – you never know what you're going to get.

In the last five games they have scored, in order, 10, 24, 35, 37 and 10 points. The 35-point game was a last-second, three-point loss to the Green Bay Packers, who have the NFL's best record at 13-1. They scored 37 points in a road victory over the Dallas Cowboys, who are two games above .500. But they scored 10 points in home games against Philadelphia and Washington, NFC East rivals who currently have losing records.

The last of those losses was a 23-10 defeat to the Redskins yesterday in MetLife Stadium, their fifth defeat in the last six games. The loss dropped the Giants to 7-7 and in second place in the division. 

Although we might not know what we will get from the Giants, the team knows what it can get – a coveted berth in the postseason field. Despite all the ups and downs and twists and turns in a wildly unpredictable season, the Giants in one important sense are right where they want to be with two games remaining – they can earn a division title without help from another team. To play their way into the postseason, the Giants must defeat the Jets Saturday (when they will be the visiting team) and the Cowboys on New Year's Day.

With so much on the line, the players and coaches did their best today to quickly put behind them the disappointing Washington game and focused on what lies ahead.

"I think you have to deal with it the same way you deal with other losses," quarterback Eli Manning said on a conference call. "We have lost games and we still know where we stand. We have a big one ahead of us and the only way to get this bad taste out of our mouths is to play our best football Saturday.

"I think it is a matter of coming out there and finding a way to win. We just have to put everything together. We need to play our best football as a team. Our defense plays well and our offense doesn't play well or our offense plays well and our defense doesn't. We just have to put it all together with both units playing our best football and the way that we know that we can. We want to try to put ourselves in a position to win the game in the end."

"We need to focus," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "We need to wake up in the morning tomorrow and prepare and practice the way that we need to, the way that we should and the way that we normally do. When we get out there on game day, go hard. Everybody goes hard. Everybody sells out. And everybody knows exactly what they're supposed to be doing on every play, every formation, every series. We have more than a great chance of winning. We can get it done. There's no magic that needs to be done. There are 11 guys on the field that have to decide this is a game we're going to win. When we do that we'll come out with a win."

The Giants lead the regular season series between the teams, 7-4. But this will be the most significant contest in the rivalry, because it's late in the season and both teams control their postseason destiny. The Jets are 8-6 after a 45-19 loss yesterday in Philadelphia. They, too, can secure a playoff berth by winning their last two games.

The hype generated by the metropolitan-area media would be intense if each team had a losing record. The fact that the Giants and Jets are essentially in must-win situations, and the natural competition between two teams that share the same stadium, should make for an unforgettable spectacle on game day.

"It's one of those environments that is electric," said Kiwanuka, who played in the last game between the teams in 2007. "You have two teams that share a building, we hang out, we live and everything within close quarters. We share some fans. We just understand that it's a big game regardless of how often we're going to see them just because of how passionate the fans are on both sides."

"Obviously, when you have two teams in the same area, the same city and using the same stadium, you want to have success," Manning said. "You want to be your best and if you see them having success, it makes things worse. I think it's still, not so much about the Jets, it is about our season and what we need to accomplish and what we are trying to do to enhance our season and extend it."

Coughlin usually ignores pregame hype, but to do that this week would require him to retreat to a cabin in the woods without internet access.

"I certainly hope it can be good," he said of the attention on the game and the players. "Let's face it, you have a city that has certainly divided. Half the city, or you would think half, would be in favor of one team, half the other. Certainly you're going to sense it. The excitement, in terms of that, I would hope would be even more stimulation to make this an extremely important game more than it is. I don't think you need any more, quite frankly, to understand how important the game is to both teams. If you played it in the parking lot, for what's at stake and both teams will realize this. It is this time of the year. It is December in the NFL. You are in the stretch. Both teams are very much involved in the playoff hunt. The excitement of that time is picked up by the fans. It's the holiday season as well, so I think it's a good thing."

The Giants take their cue from the conservative Coughlin and seldom utter pre-game quotes that can get tacked up on a locker bulletin board and inspire their opponent. Not so the Jets. Their coach, Rex Ryan, predictably stoked the fire today by saying "I think we're better," when asked about the Giants.

Coughlin and Co. declined to take the bait and engage in a war of words.

"I am not going to pay attention to it," Manning said. "My focus is getting ready for their defense and getting ready for this game. I need to understand our game plan and what we need to do to try to win. You hear bits and pieces, but I am not going to go get the paper and read every quote that Rex Ryan is saying and take it to heart. I am sure some people will respond to it, but it is not going to be me."

"I don't usually get involved in the rhetoric part of this thing," Coughlin said. "I think what's important is that the game is an important game to both teams. And the game will be settled on Saturday afternoon at one."

"It's going to be do or die," Kiwanuka said. "We have two teams that are fighting. For us, the only thing we're concerned about is achieving our ultimate goal, which is winning a Super Bowl. Our playoffs have already started. Fortunately, we still have another opportunity to accomplish that goal. This week is going to be huge for us."

As it will be for anyone in the New York/New Jersey region with an interest in the NFL.

*Devin Thomas was on the field being attended to by the team's medical personnel for virtually the entire halftime yesterday after suffering a neck injury on a kickoff on the final play of the first half. He was strapped to a cart and driven off the field. But after undergoing a thorough examination, Thomas' prognosis is good.

"Devin, thank God, has been cleared and it appears it was a burner," Coughlin said. "So hopefully he will be ready to practice this week."

*Tight end Jake Ballard was not as fortunate after suffering an injury to his posterior cruciate ligament.

"We are going to look at this day-to-day, but we expect that he will (miss time)," Coughlin said. "It is a good medical guess right now, but we hesitate to say if he is out and how long he is out or anything like that. I would think at this point in time he is going to miss some time.

"I am hoping it is not a season ender. No, it is not one of those. It depends on how fast the knee will come around and we are just going to have to wait and see."

*It appears Osi Umenyiora will miss his fourth consecutive game with an ankle injury.

"I'm very concerned, because we were hoping we'd have him back," Coughlin said. "Again, we're going to take it day to day, but we'd have to have some major improvement here to be able to say that he could go."

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