By Neil Keefe
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Last Sunday was easy. Too easy. That isn't the way Giants games are supposed to be, let alone playoff games. Or maybe they are supposed to be like that? You think they would be like that given their roster and its talent, and the coaching staff and its experience. But at this point I don't know who the Giants are. I don't think anyone really knows and that's why this game on Sunday is so intriguing.
Are the Giants the team that lost to Rex Grossman (twice!), Charvaris Whiteson, Alex Smith (this one is a little more acceptable now) and Vince Young? Or are they the team that's currently the hottest in the league, getting healthy and peaking at the right time?
This weekend and this game feels eerily similar to the third weekend in January in 2008, even if that game was for so much more than this one is. The difference between playing for a trip to go to the Super Bowl and a trip to play another game in either San Francisco (please) or New Orleans (please, no) is enormous. But I think this game has the feel of that Jan. 20, 2008 game because if the Giants can beat the 15-1, defending-champion Packers, and if they can win their fourth straight, then they can prove that they can beat anyone. (Except for maybe the Saints in the Superdome, but we'll cross that bridge if and when we get to it.)
Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is 2007, but I'm not certain that it's not either. And how can anyone definitively say it isn't? No one thought 2007 was 2007 when it was happening. You don't see those types of things happening and you can't predict that they will while they are. All you can do is sit back and let them unfold and reflect on them later. All you can do is hope that 2011 is 2007.
The Giants are playing their biggest game since Super Bowl XLII on Sunday. I don't know what Tom Coughlin will tell his team, and I don't know what I would tell them if I were in his position. I don't think you need to tell this Giants team anything at this point or to remind them of what's at stake. But if I had to, maybe I would steal a Coach Eric Taylor quote from Friday Night Lights in hopes that no one on the team watched the show or remembers lines from it. Actually, that's exactly what I would do. There has never been a better fictitious leader or motivator than Coach Taylor (I still don't want to believe that Kyle Chandler isn't a high school football in Texas), so let's dip into his long list of perfect quotes to look at this Giants-Packers playoff game and what it means.
"What the hell? You want a hug or something? Get out of here."
This just seems like something Tom Coughlin would say.
"6 a.m. sharp means a quarter to six."
Again, just something Tom Coughlin would say. I think he really has said this. OK, let's get serious.
"A few will never give up on you. When you go back out on the field, those are the people I want in your minds. Those are the people I want in your hearts."
Nearly everyone gave up on the season with five minutes and 41 seconds left in Dallas. I had started to let the end-of-season shock take over, but I kept the TV on the game for that one-in-a-million Lloyd Christmas/Mary Swanson chance that maybe, just maybe the Giants could somehow pull out the kind of dagger that they have been handed so many times in the nearly four seasons since XLII.
This season had everything Giants fans have come to expect from their team, and why I constantly refer to Matt Damon's character Mike McDermott's explanation of No-Limit 'Hold Em in Rounders as the perfect description of what Giants fans endure.
"There's no other game in which fortunes can change so much from hand to hand. A brilliant player can get a strong hand cracked, go on tilt … and lose his mind along with every single chip in front of him … Some people, pros even, won't play No-Limit. They can't handle the swings."
You have to be a certain type of sports fan to deal with the Giants and the way they play differently each Sunday as if the previous Sunday never happened. I'm not saying you have to be insane or our of your mind the way you have to be to attach your life to the Jets, but you can't help which team you are raised as a fan of.
"Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight, and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is at the midst of that battle, he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over."
The Giants might lose on Sunday. Las Vegas is banking on the idea that they will lose. They are 7.5-point underdogs (opened at 9) and are 3-to-1 to win the game. The most important thing about this game is that the Giants can't lose confidence or stray away from their game plan because of what the Packers can do. The Packers are going to score. They might score in bunches. They might receive the opening kickoff and march down the field and put up seven in a few minutes. I'm prepared for them to do so. The Giants have to understand that the shutout they pitched last weekend against the Falcons isn't going to happen this weekend. They need to withstand the Packers' inevitable scoring and pressure and make sure that they can match the Packers' offense punch for punch and contain the fire rather than pour gasoline on it like Rafael Soriano and Boone Logan would do for an opposing rally.
There isn't that much of a difference between the two offenses. They boast two of the top tier quarterbacks and the two best receiving corps in the league. But the key for the Giants is to not get off to a slow start. If you're down two or three possessions in Green Bay, you might as well catch the early flight home.
This is how the Giants opened their game against the Falcons: Punt. Punt. Punt. Safety.
They were able to get away with it because the Falcons were worse, and the Giants defense was dominant. But you're not going to get away with opening the game in Green Bay with zero offense, a series of punts and giving away points.
(Also, Tom Coughlin if you're reading this and if you have the chance: DEFER! TAKE THE BALL IN THE SECOND HALF!)
"We're not playing this game in the stands, understand? Forget about that crap. This game happens on the field."
The Lambeau crowd is going to be insane on Sunday (as it always is). They have the best team in football playing at home and trying to protect the Lombardi Trophy. And with Ryan Braun's bizarre failed PED test, the fact that Prince Fielder won't be playing in Milwaukee again unless his team has the Brewers on the schedule and the fact that the Bucks are still the Bucks, the Packers are Wisconsin. Like my friend Tim, a Packers fan, told me this week, a loss to the Giants will be "high on the devastation" scale.
Very few people are giving the Giants a chance that aren't form the tri-state area, and rightfully so. The Giants are the 9-7 team and the No. 6 seed. The Packers were the best team in the league all season and have lost ONCE since Nov. 28, 2010 with Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback. But I'm glad that the Giants' recent play isn't changing the minds of many people. We don't need the majority of people believing in the Giants and pumping their tires like Roberto Luongo would do for Tim Thomas.
Like I have said a million times, the Giants don't perform well with expectations. As long as they can fly under the radar and go about their business without many people taking significant notice or hyping them to win, they are fine. The second they are told that they're good, it all changes.
"Right here, right now, god has placed you to do what you do best. Go all the way."
It's crazy to think of what had to happen for the Giants to get to where they are and to still be playing. If Miles Austin doesn't lose the ball in the Cowboys Stadium lights or if Tony Romo doesn't just overthrow him (or whatever happened on that play), the Giants aren't playing this weekend. If Tom Coughlin doesn't call timeout to ice Dan Bailey and then Jason Pierre-Paul doesn't block the field goal, the Giants and Cowboys go to overtime and the Giants possibly lose. Go back even further and think about the drive against the Patriots or the Victor Cruz fumble against the Cardinals or the comeback against the Dolphins or the Corey Webster interception against the Bills.
It took an insane series of events over 17 weeks for the Giants to finish at 9-7 and win the division and then win a home playoff game against the Falcons. Things like this happen for teams that go on improbable runs. It happened for the Packers last year. If the Giants don't blow a 21-point lead in the final 7:18 and DeSean Jackson doesn't return that punt as time expires, the Packers are eliminated from the playoffs, and there's no Super Bowl and Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback with no playoff wins, but not in the same conversation as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."
I said last Friday that "the Giants are playing with house money from here on out" and they are. I don't expect them to win on Sunday, but that's only because I know how they perform with expectations and I'm trying to keep things quiet over here.
The Giants weren't supposed to have a winning record or win their division. They weren't supposed to have a home playoff game. They weren't supposed to win that home playoff game against the more "consistent" Falcons. They weren't supposed to be playing the Packers in the second round of the playoffs for a chance to extend the season another week, and no one would thought they would be with five minutes and 41 seconds left in Dallas. But here they are. Still alive and still playing. And now just one more January win in Green Bay from making 2011 feel even more like 2007.
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