HC Tom Coughlin says his team is in "must-win" mode.
If you have followed the New York Giants at all during the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era, Monday night’s 17-16 loss at the hands of quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins should not come as a surprise. These recurring, late-season letdowns have plagued the Giants since the squad’s 2007 Super Bowl season.
In Week 12 of the 2007 season, the Giants (7-3) were embarrassed at home by a Minnesota Vikings squad that entered the matchup with a record two games below .500. Minnesota’s defense picked off Manning four times as the Vikings cruised to a 41-17 victory.
Still, the Giants reestablished their playoff aspirations by following the loss up with back-to-back wins over the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in Weeks 13 and 14. However, just when New York was regaining the trust of its fans, the team let them down again with a 22-10 loss to the Redskins, a team that the Giants had already topped in Week 3 of the ’07 season.
In spite of the regular season hiccups, the Giants still went on to capture the Lombardi Trophy in 2007. Although the losses to Minnesota and Washington ended up being nothing more than afterthoughts, they made the Giants’ path to the Super Bowl much more rigorous.
Four years later, in 2011, New York still had not learned its lesson. After dragging themselves out of a month-long winless streak with a Week 14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants slipped up once again versus the Redskins.
This time, in Week 15, Manning and the Giants offense never found their stride. New York fell, 23-10, granting Washington its fifth and final win of the 2011 season. With a 7-7 record, the Giants no longer had the option to lose, as the pursuit of another Super Bowl championship suddenly hinged on the outcome of each individual game.
Currently, at 7-5, the Giants may not be in as dire a situation as the one they were in a season ago, but the message remains the same: win what’s left on the schedule. Coughlin stressed the importance of the team’s game-to-game success, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York:
“Knowing full well it’s a four game season, we have to win, literally, every one of our games. That’s how I look at it.”
The Giants’ loss to the Redskins on Monday certainly muddles up the NFC East picture—both the Cowboys and Redskins (6-6) sit a game back on New York. The story is so familiar that some players wanted to avoid what has seemingly become inevitable, calling for action weeks before the Redskins loss occurred.
Such was the case for safety Antrel Rolle. After the Cincinnati Bengals dismantled the team in Week 10, Rolle took to the airwaves during the Giants’ bye week, voicing his concerns about potential late season let downs on WFAN (via New York Daily News):
“I want to win six out of six. That’s the way I look at it, that’s the way I play the game, that’s my attitude about it. Four out of six — it may get us in, it may not get us in. it all depends. I don’t want to bank ourselves on a 10-6 season. So (I’m) definitely going to go for a 12-4 season.”
How many more games will the Giants win?
Rolle’s warning may have gone unheard, but how will the team respond to Coughlin’s message? Will the Giants buckle down and capture their sixth playoff berth under Coughlin’s guidance? Or will the pressure prove to be insurmountable, causing the team to collapse down the stretch?
As of now, the Giants are still in full control of their playoff destiny—if they win each of their remaining four regular season games, New York is guaranteed to earn a playoff spot. However, notching four checks in the win column over the next four weeks will be a daunting task for Big Blue.
The Giants will face the New Orleans Saints, a team that smoked them, 49-24, only a season ago; the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, both on the road against teams that do not typically lose in their home stadium; and the Philadelphia Eagles, a hated divisional rival that already handed the Giants a loss in Week 4 of this season.
The Redskins and Cowboys, on the other hand, will travel a much less demanding path to the playoffs. The four teams on Washington’s remaining schedule have a combined winning percentage of .458. The four on Dallas’ schedule: .521.