It is December football for the New York Giants and for the first time in a long time, that actually means something other than jockeying for a pick in the NFL Draft. This Giants team may well be playoff-bound, but their coach isn’t looking beyond this week.
The streaking Giants are winners of six straight, a run of form that has elevated the team to 8-3 and the fifth seed in the NFC’s race for the Wild Card. Sunday’s win over the hapless Cleveland Browns now has the Giants set for a Sunday showdown at the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that has struggled this year but is still a solid group. They’ve also turned their season around in recent weeks, a dangerous opponent for the soaring Giants.
A win on Sunday would give the Giants their first winning record since 2012 and would be a giant — pardon the pun — step towards the postseason, the rarified air of the playoffs that they haven’t reached since 2011. December football now means something, a point that hasn’t been lost on first-year head coach Ben McAdoo.
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“As a team, where do we go from here? It’s December football. This is where the real football begins. All our hard work to this point has set the table for December,” McAdoo said on Monday. “It’s an exciting time against a lot of playoff teams and playoff environments. The margin for error is small. This is where our identity needs to take over.”
The identity he rattles off is cliché but it is the “sound, smart and tough, committed to discipline and poise” talking points that have ignited the Giants in recent weeks during their run of wins. They’ve cut back on turnovers, got increased returns from their running game and seen the defense step-up in recent weeks.
And with a win over the 0-12 Browns on Sunday and the hapless Chicago Bears the week before, the Giants have clicked off two wins in what would be trap games. Now the Steelers are nowhere near as bad as the Giants previous two opponents but they remain a trap game.
Especially with a Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys looming in two weeks, the Giants must not overlook the mediocre Steelers. They come into the game at 6-5, winners of two straight following a devastating home loss to the Cowboys.
“We’re going to have a week-to-week mentality. I think it’s important to address the elephant in the room, so to speak,” McAdoo said. “Everything gets cranked up a notch in December with everyone jockeying for position. We just need to make sure we play our best football moving forward.”