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The New York Giants weren't even done putting the finishing touches on an emphatic victory in San Francisco when the team's brass got a preview of the danger that lies ahead.
While heading down from the Candlestick Park press box to the field, Giants owner John Mara, general manager Jerry Reese and other team executives got a glimpse of Robert Griffin III busting loose for a 76-yard touchdown run to beat Minnesota on the television monitor inside the press elevator.
|Justin Tuck is fighting the surging hype surrounding his team.|
After the impressive highlight, the TV showed the standings in the crowded NFC East.
The final seconds hadn't even ticked away on the Giants' resounding 26-3 win over the 49ers when the team's executives were reminded of one of their most important goals -- taking care of the NFC East first.
The Giants face the improved Washington Redskins and their exciting rookie quarterback at home Sunday, and it might just be a bigger game than the NFC Championship Game rematch that was just played.
While it's not nearly as sexy as knocking Jim Harbaugh's team around on its home turf, the Giants can make an even more emphatic statement over the next two weeks by beating the Redskins and Cowboys.
If the Giants really want to solidify themselves as contenders to defend their title, they have to ride the tidal wave of momentum they now have into these next two pivotal division showdowns with Washington and Dallas.
If the Giants lose to Washington for a third consecutive time, Tom Coughlin's team will not only lose the head of steam it built up, it will stumble to a damaging 0-3 in the NFC East with only three division games left to play.
That is perhaps why Justin Tuck spent a good portion of his postgame media session trying to downplay the surging hype surrounding his team.
"I'm sure after Week 6 last year, we weren't the best team in football but we won the Super Bowl," Tuck said. "I am not worried about where we are right now. I am worried about where we are come January and February."
Even though they showed just how good they can be with the win over the 49ers, the Giants may not get to January and February if they fail to win the NFC East.
The Giants still have the hardest schedule in the NFL, with home games against Pittsburgh, Green Bay and New Orleans and road games at Cincinnati, Atlanta and Baltimore remaining on their schedule. They also still have to play the Redskins twice, travel to Dallas and finish the season with the Eagles.
The Giants can't fall into the trap of playing their best football against an elite team like the Niners and then struggle at home with a Redskins team that is supposed to be rebuilding with a rookie quarterback.
If they do, they will waste all that they worked so hard for last Sunday.
"We'll turn the page very quickly," linebacker Michael Boley said in a conference call Monday. "We know we're behind in the division."
If the Giants want to truly prove how good they are, they'll win these next two games. The Giants are an elite team and the best teams not only string together sizable winning streaks, they take care of business in their division.
We've seen what the Giants can do when their backs are pushed up against the wall and how they respond to adversity when they absolutely have to.
But too often, they can play with a frustrating lack of urgency at home in games they are expected to win.
This week's opponent should serve as a reminder of that. Last year, the Redskins not only swept the Giants with Rex Grossman calling the signals, they also soundly beat them at home to drop them to 7-7 in a game the Giants needed badly.
The 23-10 loss pushed the Giants to the brink. They banded together to win their final two games against the Jets and Cowboys, claim the NFC East and then make their run to the Super Bowl. That Redskins loss was the final wake-up call for the Giants.
Tom Coughlin might not even have to pull out the "0-2 in the division" card this week as motivation for his team.
"If anything, he'll bring up the fact that they've had our number recently," Boley said.
The Redskins will give the Giants their best shot and make the defending champs work for everything. But the Giants are the superior team. And it's time that they show it.
Because if they fail to, the Giants might not win the division. The Giants don't want to leave their fate up to tiebreakers and records to get back into the playoffs.
"We all know what it takes to get to the Super Bowl and winning," Tuck said. "[But] you don't win anything in October. There have been teams that have been undefeated and play their best ball in October and don't even make it to the Super Bowl."