The Giants have little time to pat themselves on the back following Sunday night’s NFC East-clinching win because up next is an even tougher test.
“We’ve been in a playoff mode the last few weeks, so that’ll help,” said defensive end Justin Tuck. “But we’ll need even more intensity than the Dallas game because we’re playing a very good Atlanta Falcons team.”
New York dominated Dallas in what was essentially a playoff play-in game, but the Falcons offer a new set of problems for Big Blue. The short turnaround is something Giants head coach Tom Coughlin worries about, but it’s better than the alternative — just ask their co-tenants. Besides playing at home this weekend, Coughlin said the most important factor in the Giants’ favor is they’ve been in single-elimination games for the better part of a month.
“I think we have been in playoff games for the last three weeks. We are battle tested in a lot of ways because we have played some really outstanding football teams all through the second half of the season,” Coughlin said. “We talked about how important this time of the year is. What I told them was the straight up truth; this is the playoffs. There are 12 teams in the playoffs and 20 teams go home, it is a single-elimination tournament and if you win, you go on. If you lose, you go home. It is reality.”
Another reality is that since the Falcons are in the NFC South, these two teams rarely meet. The last time they met was in 2009 and at least a third of the current Giants team wasn’t on the roster. Beating the hated Cowboys — and to a lesser extent a Jets team they see annually in the preseason — is one thing, but playing the explosive, unknown Falcons is another thing.
“We are in the playoffs and you really need to have a good handle on what the opponent is seeing in your play,” said Coughlin. “This is our first week in the playoffs so we really need to do a good job of studying them. We have not played them in a while and we need to do a really good job in a short amount of time of being informed about this outstanding Atlanta Falcon team.”
The uneven flow of this season is a concern, said Tuck. But through it all he truly believes the recent two-game winning streak is what has hardened the Giants in this one-and-done playoff format.
Tuck joked he’s sometimes still at a loss of understanding his own team, let alone a stranger like the Falcons.
“Right now it just seems like it differs every week,” Tuck said of the Giants’ inconsistencies. “One game the defense plays great and stops the run. Then in some games our defense shows up, so I don’t know what our identity is. [But] as long as we keep progressing like we have the last two weeks, I think we will [be fine]. I just know it [the playoffs] is going to be something good.”
Coughlin said such inconsistent play this Sunday could doom Big Blue. The Falcons aren’t as one-dimensional as the Cowboys and Jets, so if his squad doesn’t find more balance, they could have a short postseason stint.
“I hope it’s consistency. The approach doesn’t change all that much,” Coughlin said when asked what he’s most looking for from his team. “It’s always [about] focus, work ethic and the team concept. Right at this point of the year, without a doubt you’re helped by the circumstance too. The motivation [of losing] is incredible. It’s a great time of the year. We’ve come down the stretch and had a million questions asked about our ability to finish, so that’s always been in the back of our minds.”
The 16-year veteran coach then added the veteran experience on this roster can certainly help the younger players quickly refocus and come down from the euphoria of bouncing the Cowboys to now setting their sights on a foreign foe.
“We have some people here that know how to win, that have done it in a very wonderful place not too long ago,” Coughlin said of the Super Bowl XLII holdovers. “They can share with a lot of others about what it takes at this time of the year to put yourself in that position, or at least to get into the tournament. That’s been the main stick.”
Big Blue notes
»Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said he believes this team is battle tested and that Coughlin has been throwing around that phrase since the Jets game. Kiwanuka added had the Giants taken care of business earlier in the season that Big Blue wouldn’t have needed such late-season heroics: “Some of those battles we put ourselves in and we probably should not have been in those must-win games in the first place. But we were in them and came out with the win.”
»Tuck said the turnaround was so quick that he barely had time to watch the Dallas film, as he was pretty much onto the Falcons’ tapes by mid-day Monday: “We just watched the Dallas tape, [but] it is all about moving forward. And all of our attention and energy is focused on learning about this Atlanta Falcons team and preparing to play a great game against a team we don’t even know yet.”
Tuck also agreed with Kiwanuka that the Giants didn’t need to put themselves in this position and added such a tense stretch of games has its advantages and disadvantages: “Being battle tested is good and bad. It is good because you have played the best teams and you know how you stack up against them and you have taken guys’ best shots. But you are also battered and bruised from playing some of those great teams, too. This is exactly where we need to be right now and obviously we have a lot of work to do. It seems like we are progressing every day and every week. That is all you can ask for from a team, just get better every week and it gives you that shot to keep playing.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 as the team heads into the postseason.