Giants hope drought is on the way out
G-men can return to the playoffs with prime-time win over rival Cowboys on Sunday
The Giants haven't breathed playoff air since that 2008 season, when they unsuccessfully tried to defend their Super Bowl title after losing Plaxico Burress to a gunshot wound in the leg.
For several Giants, that season and that playoff game feel like they took place an eternity ago.
Five things to watch
1. Protect this house. This is the NFC East championship game. The Giants have shown that when they come out hungry, bring the intensity and are focused, they can play with anybody. But too often this season, especially at home, they have come out flat or failed to match another team's effort. The Giants won last week against the Jets as the road team, but they have not won at MetLife as the home team since Oct. 30.
2. Elite Eli It's been an amazing season for Eli Manning, one in which he has backed up the talk of being elite. But there will be a blemish on the season if Manning can't finish strong and carry the Giants into the playoffs. In his past two games, he has cooled off considerably with four interceptions and just one touchdown. The Giants need Manning to come up big again against the Cowboys, who have lost six of the past eight meetings against the Giants.
3. Justin time. Last week, Justin Tuck blocked out all the pain from his injuries and delivered his best game of the season. And it resonated with the rest of the defense, which feeds off its captain. Tuck hates the Cowboys and another vintage Tuck-type game would be trouble for Dallas, which already will have its hands full with Jason Pierre-Paul and possibly Osi Umenyiora, who is on track to return from an ankle injury.
4. Rock Romo. Tony Romo enters this game with an injured throwing hand that was swollen earlier in the week. The Giants must get pressure on Romo -- who will be without starting left guard Montrae Holland -- and not give him and his receivers time to burn the defense. The Giants have to find a way to cover Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Laurent Robinson, and do so without communication breakdowns or mental lapses. If the Giants make it easy for Romo like they did on Bryant's 50-yard touchdown in the last meeting, Tony could finish the Giants' season.
5. Keep trucking. The running game came to life in the second half against the Jets last week as Ahmad Bradshaw scored two touchdowns, including one that came after he trucked safety Brodney Pool. Bradshaw sat out the first half of the last meeting against Dallas after violating team rules. The Giants need Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to help set the tone of what is expected to be a physical game. If Manning can use play-action, the Cowboys' secondary could be in for a long night.
-- Ohm Youngmisuk
"It seems like a very long time," running back Brandon Jacobs said. "It's been a very long time for this organization that hasn't shown that New York logo in the playoffs."
On Sunday night, the Giants will play what basically is a playoff game to get into the postseason. Call it the NFC East championship game. The winner between the Giants (8-7) and Cowboys (8-7) takes the division and moves on.
While last week's 29-14 win over the Jets was a huge victory, the Giants really haven't been in this kind of pressure-packed, one-and-done game since that 2009 playoff loss to the Eagles.
The closest thing to that last year were the two December games against Philadelphia and Green Bay. The Giants melted down against the Eagles with the NFC East on the line and then were routed in Green Bay with a playoff spot at stake. But even then, they had an outside shot to get into the postseason in the final week of the season.
This time, the Giants have another shot to win the division. They just have to want it more than the Cowboys and execute better.
That, of course, is easier said than done.
It is anyone's guess as to how the Giants will respond -- Tom Coughlin's team has been wildly inconsistent. The last time they won consecutive games was back around Halloween, when they beat Buffalo, Miami and won at New England. The only streak the Giants have been on since was a losing streak.
And the last time the Giants strung together two good games and played with intensity and focus was when they lost 38-35 to Green Bay before going to Dallas and coming out with a 37-34 win in early December.
"We're not consistent at all," Jacobs said. "We're not consistent as an offense, we're not consistent as a defense. Special teams have played very well all year long, but even as a team we just haven't been consistent. Don't know what that reason is but we have to get it together for this week."
On top of that, their play has been poor at home this season. The Giants are just 3-4 in East Rutherford and have lost their past three games as the home team.
They did win last weekend at MetLife Stadium -- but as the road team against the Jets, who also fired up the Giants by treating them like a road team and covering up Big Blue's mural of the organization's Super Bowl trophies and logos in front of the Giants' locker room.
This week, the Giants won't have the Jets or Rex Ryan to give them any motivational assists. But they say they won't need anything extra to get them up for their hated division rivals with the East at stake.
"Not at this point," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said, when told that the Giants have had difficulty maintaining intensity and focus. "Everything that has happened in the past has happened."
But the Giants will be leaning on one part of their past. They hope that Eli Manning's experience of winning big games during the 2007 Super Bowl run will help on Sunday night.
Manning also has had some of his best games against the Cowboys. The Giants' quarterback has thrown for 300 or more yards and two or more touchdowns in four of his past five games against the Cowboys. He's also won six of his past eight games against Dallas, including the divisional playoff meeting against the Cowboys during that Super Bowl run.
Add on the fact Manning just beat the Cowboys by erasing a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit in less than six minutes three weeks ago in what was a must-win game, and the Giants are confident about their chances.
Even though Manning has hit a bit of a slump with four interceptions and just one touchdown in his past two games, the Pro Bowl quarterback is looking to finish off the best season of his career with a playoff-clinching win.
"He is the unspoken leader out there," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "You have 10 guys looking at one guy. ... It is imperative that he has poise and belief that we are going to get this thing done. The fact that we have experienced some success, everybody feeds into that. There is no sense of panic or that we can't get this thing done."
And that is why the Giants believe they have a great chance to end their playoff drought. And it's also why the Giants don't want to waste this season Manning is having.
If the Giants can win this game and get into the playoffs, there is no telling how far Manning can carry the Giants.
"We feel very confident, regardless of the fact where we are defensively, that he is going to put up a lot of points and keep us in the football game," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "The last Dallas game comes to mind, down two scores with basically two possessions left and we get a win. Feel very confident about knowing that once you get into those playoffs, when that guy gets on a roll, you can beat anybody."
Tuck would love to see Manning in a playoff game the way he's played this season. It's been a while since he last saw Manning go to work in the postseason.
"It seems like years," Tuck said. "It is years. But it seems a lot longer than it has been."
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