The Giants (6-9) may not be able to finish with a winning record, or even catch Sunday’s opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6), in the NFC East standings, but that hasn’t stopped them from preparing for this tilt as if it means more than just pride.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said while the roster will definitely look different next season, and this will be the final time this collection of players and coaches will be together on the field, all he can think about is beating the Eagles and ending the season on a four-game winning streak.
“I am not thinking about [sentimentality]. I am only thinking about this game. I am excited about the leading up to this game and what this group has been able to put together this late in the season,” said Coughlin. “I look forward again to the challenge, which is against a team that just two weeks ago played for the number one seed in the division and a team that is recognized as an outstanding football team … [We want] to see where we are. What’s our progress been like? That is where I am emotionally and every other way.”
Coughlin also reasoned that his players are also only focusing on the task at hand — and that’s to hand the Eagles their fourth-straight loss and play for the sake of professionalism.
“Every week it is consistently about improvement,” offered Coughlin. “It is about pride. It is about who we are. It is about our team. It is about trying to be the best that we can be as individuals and teammates. It is about representing your franchise to the best of your ability. It is about doing it for the guy next to you, all of those things. We preach all of that.”
The chance to send the Eagles into the sunset on a depressing skid won’t be easy, though, as they rank fifth overall on offense, including averaging 29 points per game. They’ve been known to get off to fast starts, too, as they’ve racked up 85 points on their first or second drives.
Defensively, they’re not as potent as their offensive brethren, but they are opportunistic. Philadelphia has caused a league-high22 fumbles and recovered 15 of them. They have 49 sacks, which is second-most in the league — led by Connor Barwin’s 14 1/2 sacks.
And they’re even solid on special teams, ranking second in the league with 13.2 yards per punt return and third overall with27.8 yards per kickoff return.
All of those stats just verify what quarterback Eli Manning already knew, that this game should be taken seriously and not simply looked upon as a run-of-the-mill season-ending game between two non-qualifiers.
“They’ve got good players. They like to bring pressure [and] have a number of guys who win their one-on-one matchups a lot, so we’ve got to be prepared for that,” said Manning.
The franchise signal-caller added that since his team has known for a while that the postseason wasn’t in their plans, they’ve dedicated the rest of the campaign to finishing strong.
“It’s the next game and, as professionals, we understand we’ve got a job to do. We’ve been understanding that all year and have dealt with the tough situation that we’ve been in,” said Manning. “We weren’t playing well for a while, but we’ve come out of that little funk and have been playing good football. So, we want to continue that and end the season on a high note. … We know for the next six months that usually it’s the last game that you think about the most, so we want to have positive memories of this game.”
Odell Beckham Jr. will be playing in his first season-ending game. And while he’s only a rookie, the wideout is already well-versed in what the coach and veteran teammates expect from him to close out the season.
“Finish. Finish strong. Be a professional. It is just kind of something that has hit me throughout the season. Every time I step on the field, you never know when it could be your last, so go as hard as possible at all times. Never take a play off, and that is what I plan to do Sunday,” noted Beckham, adding he’s looking forward to closing out the season against the team he statistically had his worst performance. “I am definitely excited. I was just getting [into the rotation] and we didn’t come out and play well. They came out and played extremely well. They did a lot of things right and we didn’t … It’s not really revenge, but 27-0 [defeat] leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
The season as a whole may ultimately leave a collective bad taste in the Giants’ mouths, but for Coughlin, all he wanted out of the team’s final practice of the season, on Friday, is to work as if there was more beyond Sunday.
“We talked all week about that, having passion. It’s about the idea of this is the last game of the year. It’s against a divisional foe,” said Coughlin. But there’s more [at stake]. You have all kinds of things going on [like] young people who are getting opportunities, veteran players who want to be in a position to win, a coaching staff that busts their tail to win week in and week out. Nothing changes because it’s the 16thgame. …No question, we all want to win [and] play well. What other motive do you have in this business? It doesn’t help anybody not to be at their very best, so that [being lax] is not even a consideration. These guys have worked hard together. They like each other, they play for each other, and it’s unfortunate we only get to line up and do it one more time.”
Big Blue notes:
– Rookie running back Andre Williams is listed as questionable, but Coughlin said he expects him to play.