The playoffs were a pipe dream by early October, but the New York Giants somehow kept their mathematical hopes for the postseason alive until Sunday. Now that they are gone, the question becomes what the final three games on the Giants' schedule are about. There are fans who would have them lose as much as possible, to improve their draft position. There are less insane fans who would like to see more of some of the younger players on the roster, so that the team can evaluate what it has for the future before devising its offseason plan.
But the focus and purpose of the Giants' players and coaches will be much more simple and focused. Their plan is to try as hard as they can to actually win their games.
"We have a lot to play for," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said on a Monday conference call. "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."
They aren't hollow words, not for the Giants. The ability and determination to make the game in front of them their sole focus has served them well in better times, including the two Super Bowl runs. It served them well from Week 7 through Week 13 this year, when they were winning five-of-six games to remain mathematically alive in spite of their 0-6 start. They're not going to change the way they go about their business now. They just need to apply it to a different -- albeit disappointing -- situation.
"Each one of these games is a critical game for us," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's a critical game for our team, for our franchise and for all of us. So we certainly will throw everything we have into these individual games, and then we'll assess the entire season when the time comes."
That's your answer for whether there will be changes on the coaching staff, or what the decisions will be on the many, many free agents on the roster, or which direction they plan to go in the draft. The answer is that it's not time yet, from the Giants' standpoint, to have those discussions or make those decisions. The way the Giants operate is this: They play all 16 games, then assess the season as a standalone unit and base their plan on that. You evaluate a 5-11 season differently than you evaluate an 8-8 one, and because the Giants could still finish with either of those records or one in between, it's still too early for them to be thinking or talking about what happens when it's over. All they know, because Coughlin constantly preaches it and they buy it, is to do whatever they can to win their next game.
"Obviously, pride should always serve as the motivator, but obviously now at this point, it's all you play for," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "For your pride and for your character. You want people and teams and coaches to understand that 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."
They now know for a fact that their season will end on Dec. 29, when their Week 17 game against the Redskins is complete. Once that happens, it'll be time for the players and the coaches and the front office to reflect on what's happened and think about what should happen next. But in the meantime, these NFL football games are hard. And if your belief is that it's important to do whatever you can to win them, you can't waste preparation time thinking about anything but preparation.