EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The playoffs are no longer a possibility, but the Giants will treat their final three games as if they are.
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Gameday Photo Timeline](http://www.giants.com/photos/photos/Photo-Timeline-Giants-vs-Chargers/cdc29d85-e0cb-4a57-a532-68f677ee80a5) That means victory is the paramount goal, player evaluation takes a back seat to winning and the players' desire, attention and preparation over the season's final three weeks should be just as it would be if the NFC East title was on the line.
"You obviously go as hard as you can each week and then you assess the season when the season is over, so each one of these games is a critical game for us," coach Tom Coughlin said today on a conference call. "It's a critical game for our team, for our franchise, for all of us and so we certainly will throw everything we have into these individual games and then we'll assess the entire season when the time comes."
This is foreign territory to almost all of the current Giants. Not since 2004 – Coughlin's first year as coach and Eli Manning's rookie season - have they been eliminated from the playoff chase with three games remaining. Their fate was sealed yesterday, when they lost to the Chargers in San Diego, 37-14, and Philadelphia, San Francisco and Arizona all won. That ended their last bit of hope for either the division title or a wild card berth.
Currently 5-8 and in third place, the Giants can't afford to coast to the finish line. Their next two games are against first-place teams. On Sunday, they host Seattle, which sports the NFC's best record at 11-2 and is looking to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The following week, they will be in Detroit to face the NFC North-leading Lions, who will need to win the game to stay ahead of the pack – and perhaps the Packers – in their division. The Giants will finish their season at home against Washington.
But the identity of their opponents has no bearing on the Giants' desire to end the season with a winning streak.
"Obviously, this is not the situation we wanted to find ourselves in," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "I think the things we have to remember and understand, what we're going to continue to preach in the locker room, is this is a prideful organization, the greatest city, the greatest organization in the world and we're going to go out there and perform. We have a lot to play for. I think every time you take the field you're representing yourself, your family, your team and your city, in that order. You have to make sure you do it to the best of your ability."
"It's unusual, but just like any other season, you have to continue to play, continue to keep a positive mindset and continue to just play football," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "Enjoy these moments that you have and enjoy being out there on the field, because you never know what could happen. You just want to go out there and enjoy this time and continue to play some good football.
"Obviously, pride should always serve as the motivator, but at this point, it's all you play for. For your pride and for your character, you understand that for people and teams and coaches to understand this team isn't one that is going to crumble inside, we play for pride. We have immense character on this team and we're going to play each and every play until it's over and until our season is done."
If so inclined, the Giants could give more extensive playing time to several young players, including Markus Kuhn, Johnathan Hankins, Damontre Moore, Jayron Hosley and Brandon Mosley. And though Coughlin is reluctant to discuss the future before the season ends, the Giants must make final evaluations on numerous other players, including potential free agents. But it all comes with what might best be called the Coughlin Caveat.
"Certainly we'll look at as many players as we possibly can," Coughlin said. "But again, our team is our team and we may be able to do some things in terms of maneuvering some numbers of plays or perhaps even getting someone a suit that hasn't had one. But we're going to try as hard as we can to win football games and the guys who deserve to play are going to play and if there are some people that haven't been involved that can make a mark here in practice or whatever to gain what we think has earned them a right to have 'X' amount of snaps, then that will take place as well. We're not going to change any of our objectives or goals."
Kiwanuka said any evaluation would be no different than what occurs on a weekly basis.
"I think that's one of the secrets about the NFL," Kiwanuka said. "We're always constantly being evaluated. There's a huge turnover, so we always feel if we're playing for our careers and for our jobs. That isn't going to change, but when it comes down to it, this is one of the toughest seasons we have had, so we have a lot pride at stake that we have to make sure we go out and show. I think that's the most important thing, to make sure we play with that sense of pride and passion."
Facing Seattle should inspire them to do just that. Though they lost yesterday in San Francisco, the Seahawks' 11-2 record is tied with Denver for the NFL's best mark. Because they defeated New Orleans last week, they are essentially two games ahead of the field in the NFC and could ensure that they stay home throughout the playoffs with a victory over the Giants.
"I don't think there's any question about the fact that we'll be motivated because of the nature of the team that's coming in here," Coughlin said. "We'll be excited to play against the Seahawks and we'll be excited to prepare. We try to be excited and motivated and inspired for every team and that's been the case. I was telling the team today, six out of the last seven weeks, physically, competitively and every way we've done a reasonably good job on the field and we've gained respect and so on and so forth. We felt good about ourselves. We didn't play well yesterday, but that's not going to change the way in which we approach each game and, yes, we're excited to host this outstanding Seahawk team and to prepare for them and it is no doubt a tremendous gauge for our team or for any team playing against a team that has the record and has accomplished what the Seahawks have."
A victory Sunday would be the Giants' biggest of the season. But Cruz admitted it would also be bittersweet.
"Obviously, it would put a smile on our faces and understand that this is something that we could have done all year with doing the right things," Cruz said. "If we beat that team it would kind of make it more disappointing, because we didn't take advantage of playing like this all year long, from an entire team perspective. Obviously, it would just put a smile on our face and have us know that when we play at our best, we can beat any team in the league."
Those are the kind of victories the Giants must settle for now.
*Coughlin was asked about shutting down defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury.
"As far as I know right now, that decision has not come down," Coughlin said. "As a matter of fact, JPP feels better and as of last weekend, thought that this week he would be perhaps in a position where he might be able to practice and prepare himself to play. That's the way the weekend was left. I don't know anything different just now, but we will assess each one of those circumstances and I'm sure that the medical people will allow us to look at it if need be and make those kinds of decisions going forward."