The Giants had just come off the practice field last Friday when they started to learn the magnitude of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Yes, they are football players, the modern day version of gladiators who mask pain and emotion in the spirit of competition. But they are also husbands, fathers and brothers.
It wasn’t long before wide receiver Victor Cruz felt a personal connection to one of the victims, 6-year-old Jack Pinto, a Giants fan, whose favorite player was Cruz. “It was through Twitter,” Cruz said yesterday. “People on Twitter were sending me tweets about how much he was a fan.”
By PAUL SCHWARTZ
Just before sitting down in the middle section of the charter flight back from Atlanta, Tom Coughlin was approached by Jon Berger, the Giants’ senior director of football information. Earlier, Coughlin’s wildly inconsistent team had been pulverized by the Falcons 34-0 and the loss separated the Giants from controlling their destiny as far as winning the NFC East.
Berger informed Coughlin that, despite the loss, the Giants still were in the driver’s seat as far as making the playoffs via the wild card route. Win their final two games — at Baltimore this Sunday, home against the Eagles in the regular-season finale — and the Giants are assured of no worse than an NFC wild-card berth.
“I actually questioned it because the six [teams] are in front of us, at this point in time, so I questioned it,’’ Coughlin said yesterday, “and was very, very careful not to say anything to anyone until I was absolutely sure of what the situation was.’’
The news was presented by Coughlin during a morning team meeting to players he described as “kind of sullen.’’ The Giants in no way resembled a team that had any business thinking of the playoffs, getting shut out by the Falcons and getting run and passed over by the Falcons. They knew that desultory loss ripped away their control of the NFC East, meaning they needed help to capture the division once again.
By PAUL SCHWARTZ
The bridge has been torn down, forcing the Giants to create their own identity, no longer tethered to the Super Bowl glory of a year ago. There is no way to say anything that happened last season has anything to do with this season, not after the Giants went down to Georgia and were bedeviled by the Falcons in a historically bad loss yesterday.
Seven days after a joyride 52-27 pounding of the Saints, the Giants believed they were a team on the rise but indeed found out the folly of that thought. They did nothing on either side of the ball and were thoroughly and completely humbled and embarrassed by the Falcons 34-0 inside the Georgia Dome in a statement game for both teams.
(12-2) showed they are for real. The Giants (8-6), leaving themselves with no playoff-entry margin for error, showed they are capable of anything, anywhere, good, bad or indifferent, which is no way for a true contender to operate.
“I’m tired of that ‘We’ve been here before.’ Forget all that,’’ Jason Pierre-Paul said. “I’m tired of hearing it. There’s no ‘We’ve been here before.’ ’’
He’s right. These Giants — now the third-place Giants — have not been here before, not after absorbing the worst shutout loss by a defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history. It was the first time under Tom Coughlin the Giants have been shut out in the regular season — the only other shutout was a playoff loss to the Panthers in 2005.
By PAUL SCHWARTZ
“Nobody asked me to stop,’’ Wilson said on Wednesday, before revealing that general manager Jerry Reese “told me if I get hurt then he’ll be in my grill.’’
Tom Coughlin, asked if he had a problem with the backflips, said “Next question.’’ Informed that Reese might have told Wilson to stop doing the back-flips, Coughlin added “You’re not going to get me on that one.’’
Teammates, most vocally Justin Tuck, want Wilson do ditch the backflip for something safer, such as a bow. But at least one prominent Giants player wants to see as many back-flips as possible on Sunday when the Giants face the Falcons in Atlanta.
NY GIANTS 52, SAINTS 27
Antrel Rolle called for the Giants to let out their “dogs.” Then David Wilson finally broke out of the doghouse.
Wilson, the Giants’ 2012 first-round pick, had his long-awaited breakout game on Sunday, setting the tone with an early 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was only the start of his big day. He set a team record with 327 all-purpose yards, including 100 rushing yards and two scores on the ground, to lead the Giants to a 52-27 win over New Orleans.
It was the moment Wilson was waiting for since he fumbled on his second NFL carry on opening night against Dallas. And for the Giants, his “coming out party” as fullback Henry Hynoski called it, couldn’t have come at a better time. Had they lost on Sunday they wouldn’t have just lost control of their playoff destiny, they would’ve slipped all the way to third in the tight NFC East.
PHOTOS: GIANTS BLOW PAST BREES, SAINTS, 52-27
“For him to come out today and have the kind of game that we needed him to have,” said Tom Coughlin. “We needed a spark. We certainly got one. The timing was right.”
“He’s probably the best athlete on the team,” Justin Tuck added. “Whenever you put a threat like that back there, it’s only a matter of time.”
Wilson wasn’t the only sparkplug. The Giants’ defense — fired up by Rolle’s call to play “nasty” and to “get a little bit more dog in us” last week – gave up a lot of yards (487), but kept the Saints off balance by forcing four turnovers. That included two interceptions from safety Stevie Brown, whose pick in the fourth quarter at the Giants’ 8 with the Saints threatening to make it a one-touchdown game, may have saved the day.
By PAUL SCHWARTZ
The Giants did not put a stranglehold on the NFC East, certainly didn’t subdue the raging threat that is Robert Griffin III and the upstart Redskins, and ensured the stretch run might be just as angst-ridden as last year’s fight to the finish.
“We’ve been down these roads before, it’s always tough and I like it that way,’’ Justin Tuck said.
There is no way anyone associated with the Giants can like it this way, not after they did last night what they almost never do — blow a halftime lead on the road — and as a result they are going to have nightmares of RG3 and Alfred Morris dancing all over them. After wasting chances and still entering the fourth quarter with a 16-10 lead, the Giants couldn’t hold off the Redskins and Eli Manning couldn’t get a sniff of a comeback drive, which added up to a 17-16 loss that was as damaging to the Giants as it was frustrating.
In a moment of honesty, several Giants players admitted last week that they’ve looked beyond the Washington Redskins. It’s not that they’re overlooking their Monday night opponent. They’ve simply glanced at their remaining schedule.
And they really don’t like what they see.
Beginning on Monday night, against the revived Redskins, there’s not a soft spot in the Giants’ remaining five games until maybe the season finale at home against the seemingly dead Philadelphia Eagles. They also have to play at home against the New Orleans Saints and make road trips to face two of the best teams in the NFL (the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens).
That’s why the two-game cushion the Giants (7-4) have in the NFC East is so important, and why they know they can’t afford to let it go.
The Giants have no intentions of playing with fire and fighting for their playoff lives again at the end of this season.
They have decided that the time to burn down the division is now.
Especially before RG3 figures it all out.
“I think Coach put it to us in some good terms today that this is a big game for us,” Victor Cruz said, “and we need to win and put some space between us and the rest of the division. So I think as a team we understand that.”
Coach, of course, is Tom Coughlin.
“This is the most important game we’ve played all year long this Monday night,” Coughlin said.
Justin Tuck was asked why Monday night is more important to the 7-4 Giants than it is to the 5-6 Redskins, who are tied with the 5-6 Cowboys.
“It gives [the Giants] a three-game lead in this division. ... It kinda starts the Fat Lady to singing a little bit as far as this division is concerned, being up three with four games to go, that’s ideal, I guess, in this situation,” Tuck said. “I think it’s important for us because I play with the Giants, I don’t necessarily care what’s important for them, so I can’t even comprehend why it would be more important for them.”