EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants have been riding the NFC rollercoaster the past few weeks.
Three weeks ago, they were being proclaimed as the best team in the conference after winning five straight. Last week, they were mired in another second-half slump after losing games to Dallas and Philadelphia.
For the opening half on Sunday against Jacksonville, their season seemed on the brink.
But following a motivational talk from Justin Tuck, a late rally against the Jaguars and a little help from the Chicago Bears, the Giants (7-4) on Monday entered the final five weeks of the regular season tied with the Eagles (7-4) for first place in the NFC East.
“We never felt we were out of the mix,” quarterback Eli Manning said Monday. “That’s just kind of football. You’re going to lose some games. There are going to be big games, like last week, that don’t go your way. It doesn’t mean you’re (done). There is still a lot of football left. A game in Week 10 of the season is not going to decide a season for you.”
The Giants’ game against the Jaguars on Sunday came close to putting them in big trouble in the tightly bunched NFC.
New York had a dismal first half in falling behind 17-6. It was forced to settle for two field goals and it saw Jacksonville score on all three of its possessions.
Making things worse, the Jaguars also got the ball to start the second half.
That’s when defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Tuck spoke to the team. Umenyiora was matter of fact, telling the defense what it had to do. Tuck spoke from his heart and it inspired a team.
Linebacker Michael Boley said the talk had a big effect, the most obvious being Jacksonville was limited to three points and 92 yards in the final 30 minutes.
“It’s not something to be taken lightly, and that’s with any of us,” Boley said. “When one of your fellow peers steps up and tells you what he sees from us, what we’re not doing or what we could be doing better, guys take heed of that.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said players talk at halftime all the time, but he noted that Tuck did a good job of combining his emotions and using himself as an example of what players had to do better.
“He said: ‘I’m not satisfied with the way I’m playing and I’m tired of looking around and seeing them run the ball or the quarterback keep the ball; and we’re not doing much about it and this is something that has to be corrected, we can’t put up with this any longer’,” Coughlin said.
The Giants didn’t hit their goal of pitching a shutout in the second half, but they came close. The also got help after the game when the Bears beat the Eagles.
The offense also did its part. Manning threw two second-half touchdown passes, including a game-winning 32-yard throw to tight end Kevin Boss with 3:15 to play. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who lost his starting job to Brandon Jacobs, also contributed a 2-point conversion run after receiver Mario Manningham caught a TD at the start of the fourth quarter in the 24-20 win.
What made the performance by the offense so big was that it made plays despite having leading receivers Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks sidelined, along with tackle Shawn Andrews.
Manning said the Giants kept things simple, didn’t get caught in many third-and-long situations and helped themselves by not turning the ball over for the first time this season.
“Everybody knew what was going on,” Manning said. “Everybody knew the looks, the plays, knew what we were getting and did a good job of executing and that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how many plays you have, how many new tricks or new plays or new ideas you have. It’s about being effective with the plays that you’re running.”
The Giants will be home against next weekend for a game against Washington (5-6), who they also will play on the final weekend of the season. They also play at Minnesota (4-7), home against the Eagles (7-4) and at Green Bay (7-4), the day after Christmas.
Boley said every week is important with seven teams having records of 7-4 or better in the conference. Those teams are fighting for five playoff spots since the sixth will go to the NFC West winner. Seattle and St. Louis are atop that division with 5-6 marks.
“It’s pretty important that we keep winning because there are some teams up there who are doing pretty good right now,” Boley said. “It’s simple, take every week and hopefully everything works out.”
Coughlin wasn’t ready to say the final week of the season will decide who makes the postseason.
“We’re in this stage of the season — from Thanksgiving until the end of the season — where you try to put yourself in position,” Coughlin said. “It’s an exciting time and it’s exciting to be involved in it, so we’ll go ahead.”
NOTES: Coughlin did not know whether Smith (pectoral), Andrews (back), and fellow offensive linemen David Diehl (hip-hampstring) or Shaun O’Hara (foot) would be able to return this week. … Defensive back Brian Jackson broke his left hand on Sunday and will have to play in a splint, while defensive lineman Dave Tollefson had a burner, but should be OK.