EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a chance, even with everything else they had going on, that the New York Giants could have overlooked Monday night's game against the St. Louis Rams. The fact that they played such a sloppy game but overcame all of the mistakes and injuries to post a 28-16 victory was a point of pride in the locker room after the game.
Because the game the Giants really want is the one they're playing Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia. And even though the issues they're facing in the present are serious enough to threaten this season, the memory of the way they lost the last game they played against the Eagles has not faded one bit.
"Last year will linger with me until I die," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.
He could not have been more serious, and he's not the only Giant who feels that way. The Giants played the Eagles here in Week 15 of last year and had a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead in a game that would have given them control of the NFC East. But they lost that game, giving away that 21-point lead to Michael Vick and losing on that fateful final-seconds punt return by DeSean Jackson. It was their sixth straight loss to the Eagles, and it cost them a spot in the playoffs. And it still stings.
"Everybody in that locker room feels like we owe the Eagles a little something," Tuck said.
And so this was big, this survive-and-advance "Monday Night Football" victory over the Rams. The Giants have too many well-documented injuries, depth and inexperience problems right now, and they didn't need to be dealing with an 0-2 start on top of it all. That they were able to hold the Rams to field goals at the end of long first-half drives, convert a slew of St. Louis miscues into points, and even out what began as a very uneven performance by Eli Manning and the offense was vital for reasons that have nothing to do with bad memories or division rivalries.
"Obviously, there's much that can be improved upon, but that's okay. We accept that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "But to be 1-1, to have Dallas 1-1, to have Philadelphia at 1-1 and to have Washington leading the division at 2-0, it was important for us to keep the pace."
The Giants are not yet whole. They are not yet as healthy as they will eventually be. The rookies and young players they're using at key spots like middle linebacker and left tackle and defensive end are not as reliable and seasoned as they will be later this year, or next season, or the season after that. "We haven't jelled yet," is the way Tuck put it, and because of that, a win at this point in a season like this is welcome relief. They get one in the bank when they don't yet have their team, and that's precious.
"It may not have been pretty, but we got the win," said linebacker Michael Boley, whose alert fumble recovery and return for a touchdown gave the Giants a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter. "That's the most important thing, and the small details and everything else can be worked out in the week leading up to the next game."
The next game, though, is the big one, and everybody connected with the Giants knows it. They want the Eagles, and they want them bad. They want LeSean McCoy and the summertime Twitter trash-talk he fired off at Osi Umenyiora. They want Steve Smith, the former Giant and symbol of an offseason in which the Eagles kicked their tails at every turn. They even want Vick to be recovered from his concussion and healthy enough to play and start at quarterback, because the Giants want revenge.
"That guy's a tremendous athlete, and as he goes so goes their offense, but you always want to beat teams at their best," Tuck said. "I think he brings out the best of us, too. Maybe we go down there and he doesn't play and we start thinking, 'We've got this.' We want their best, and we want to beat them."
The short week means the Giants have to wait one less day to try and take their revenge. It also means they have one less day to address the concerns they carried into Monday's game -- struggles in the secondary, inability to get the run game going -- and the new ones that cropped up -- injuries to Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon, and whatever the issue was with Aaron Ross that got him benched. But the win they got Monday means they get to do all of that coming off a victory, however ugly and unimpressive it may have been. Their record says 1-1, which is the same record Sunday's opponent has, by the way.
"It's going to be a pretty intense game, especially after the way we lost to them the last time," Boley said. "It's going to be heated. I'm looking forward to it."
Aren't we all.