The long and winding regular season for the New York Giants ended last Sunday night with the same promise with which it began. Their decisive 31-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium to capture the NFC East division title resoundingly eradicates the memories of the losses that would have undoubtedly negatively altered the careers of many players and coaches.
Only rigid cynics care now that the Giants started the season 6-2, then had to bear losing five of their next six. The lone victory, and up until Sunday the most important, was a gripping 37-34 victory over the Cowboys on Dec. 11.
What matters is the Giants won three of their last four games while the Cowboys went 1-4 to close out their season. And it will be the 9-7 Giants hosting the 10-6 Atlanta Falcons this Sunday (1 p.m.) at the Meadowlands in the first round of the playoffs.
“When I walked into the team meeting prior to the Jets game,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin after eliminating the Cowboys, “I said, ‘We win two games, we’re in the playoffs.’”
Their 29-14 win over the Jets restored the confidence and swagger the Giants were collectively questioning and had seemingly misplaced for well over a month.
It also moved Coughlin a little further from the reputation as a coach who has presided over too many late-season collapses.
In the run-up to Sunday’s victory, defensive end Justin Tuck, who prior to his resurgence against the Jets symbolized the Giants’ collective frustration and self-doubt as injuries severely limited his effectiveness, encapsulated the team’s physical and mental state.
“We’re getting a little healthier,” Tuck said. “We’re focusing better, and it just seems like we’re playing as one. I think at this time of the year, those are some key attributes to teams that are normally poised to make playoff runs.”
The Giants’ chances of reaching the Super Bowl as they did in the 2007-2008 season are less than even money. However, with quarterback Eli Manning, wide receiver Victor Cruz, an unlikely superstar, a revitalized offensive line and a reborn defense, they can go toe-to-toe with anyone.
Considering how far the Giants have come since putting their season in peril, that’s good enough.