What a difference a week has made for the New York Giants.
One week ago, head coach Tom Coughlin’s group passed on the opportunity to bask in the glory of a well-deserved day off they had earned for beating the Green Bay Packers 27-13.
Instead, after getting in their required morning lift, the players, who in unison responded “Five!” when their head coach asked them the night before what was better than four wins in a row, did something that delighted Coughlin.
When they took the practice field on Wednesday, the passion and energy reminded one of the atmosphere that was last present in the team’s East Rutherford headquarters in January 2012, when the Giants embarked on a postseason run all the way through to Super Bowl XLVI.
Sure, the Giants were 4-6 prior to their 2013 "Super Bowl," but as far as they were concerned, this game against the Cowboys was the game—a home game to be played in winter-like conditions in front of their loyal fans who stuck with them through an 0-6 start and who shared in their heroes’ belief that somehow, things would get better.
Not Meant to Be
As the last seconds ticked off the game clock, there was no mistaking the disappointment on the faces of the players and coaches as they passed by the few remaining heartbroken fans who had braved the weather right up until the end.
“Cowboys 24, Giants 21.”
After that crushing loss to the Cowboys, who in the visitor’s locker room were mocking the Giants for running their mouths all week, there was nothing Dallas could say to make New York feel any worse.
“They got the win. They beat us twice this year, so they have the right to talk trash,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. “You can’t get irritated with it now; you should have done something about it during the games.”
Plan A, B, C, D and E: Take Care of Business
If there is one positive in the rubble of the Giants’ 2013 season, it’s that despite their 4-7 record, they are still mathematically alive for a postseason berth.
But it won’t be easy—nothing worth having ever is—and they’re going to need a lot of help just to get back into the hunt.
“We’re 1-3 in the division and they’re 4-0. So, you can take what you want with that. We’ll see what happens going forward, but right now we’re a team that lost another game in their division. We have to regroup,” said Terrell Thomas, one of the players who did some pregame chirping.
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Although things look grim against that slate of opponents, the Giants are not ready to concede the season.
“It’s not going to be over until the five games are over,” said Coughlin, interrupting a reporter’s question in mid-stream just as soon as it was suggested that the Giants’ season was “pretty close” to being over.
“The one thing that all of you would like to try to figure into this is you don’t have anything to play for. We’ve got a lot to play for,” he said, his voice rising as he spoke.
“We’re not executing as well as we can and in all three phases at the same time, for sure. I’m looking for that. I’m always searching for perfection. We can’t get it, perhaps, because we’re human, but that’s the objective, that’s the goal and that’s what we’ll continue to fight for.”
Somehow, some way, Coughlin, who has built a reputation as a master motivator, will have to reach deep into his bag of tricks to find a way to bring his team onto the same page.
Those players who stuck around the locker room on Monday to speak with the media believe in their head coach and in each other. They have acknowledged that the only thing they can do to help themselves is engage in good old-fashioned hard work.
“The only way to fix it is just get back to work and try to go get another win,” said quarterback Eli Manning.
Yes, but isn't that easier said than done?
“No, obviously we’ve dealt with some losses here before and responded,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to respond well and come back to work knowing that we can play better.”
Manning also pointed out that if the Giants don’t at least try to do their part, they might never know what could have been, especially if by some miracle, things across the playoff landscape fall their way.
“I think we know we have to win these next five games to give ourselves a shot. Nothing is guaranteed, but there’s still hope and we know all we can do is worry about us trying to win each game. That’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
In addition to their schedule, if history is any indication, the Giants are in for an uphill battle. In Coughlin’s first nine years at the helm, the Giants have only finished with a winning record in their final eight games of the season just two times, going 5-3 in both 2005 and 2008.
Already at 2-1 in the second half of the current season, the Giants' problems, which have seen the offense, defense and special teams take their respective turns at breaking down on any given week, might just be too difficult to fix given the current composition of the roster.
“We’re still professionals and we still have a job to do,” said safety Antrel Rolle. “Nothing’s going to change around here.
"We’re still going to keep the same intensity, the same fire, the same drive, the same motivation and go out there and try to win five games.”