Coming off a bye week and riding a two-game losing streak, the New York Giants realize it’s time to turn things around.
While they have a one-game lead over Dallas in the NFC East, the defending Super Bowl champions (6-4) also have a brutal six-game closing stretch that starts Sunday night against the red-hot Green Bay Packers (7-3), winners of five in a row.
“It needs to start now,” defensive captain Justin Tuck said Monday after the Giants returned to work following six days off. “It definitely needs to start now. Our sense of urgency has to be great, we have to come out of this bye running. That is important for us leading up to the next couple of weeks to get that momentum swung back in our direction.”
It’s not an unfamiliar position for Tom Coughlin’s team. It also had a tough stretch run a year ago and managed to right things just in time to win its second title since 2007. The difference this year is that the Giants don’t have two games remaining with the Cowboys. They have already split games with their rivals from Texas, and Dallas’ schedule is easier the rest of the way.
“We’ve got a one-game lead and we just want to build up that,” leading receiver Victor Cruz said. “We control our own destiny just like you always do, every year potentially at this time. We just have to continue to win.”
The Giants are healthier following the rest. Receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has been slowed all season by foot and knee problems, said this is the best he has felt all season.
Safety Kenny Phillips, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since the end of September, also hopes this will be the week he returns.
Quarterback Eli Manning also sounded refreshed and once again downplayed any thought that his arm was tired in the weeks before the bye. He enters the Packers’ game having not thrown a touchdown pass in three contests.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who has battled foot problems most of the season, and guard Chris Snee (ankle) also worked out Monday.
“You don’t get almost a week off very often with this job and during the season. It was nice to get away, but I think everybody was kind of itching to get back,” Manning said. “We’re excited about where we stand right now, excited about this final stretch of the season and it should be fun.”
The Giants are very familiar with the Packers, having played Aaron Rodgers and Co. three times over the past two seasons. The one the Giants like to remember is the NFC divisional game last season, when New York stunned the top-seeded Packers 37-20 in Green Bay.
During the offseason, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said the Giants didn’t beat Green Bay as much as the Packers beat themselves. So, New York expects Green Bay to be ready to back that up.
“Like I said here last week, there is no panic,” Snee said of the skid. “We’re all disappointed, sure, and maybe didn’t enjoy the first couple of days of the bye as much as we wanted to. We’re not panicked. We’re excited about this game and we know they are going to come in (angry) about last year and we have to be ready for that intensity.”
Coach Tom Coughlin said his staff spent much of the bye self-scouting and trying to get the offense back on track after a couple of rough weeks.
“Six-game schedule. That’s it, six-game season,” Coughlin said. “We’re excited about that. Watched a lot of football yesterday, as you all did, I’m sure. Got excited, got upset, got excited, got all the emotions in play, but we’re excited to be back on the field and seeing all of our guys again.
“Hopefully they’re well rested and ready to go.”
After the Packers, the Giants will play Washington (4-6), New Orleans (5-5), Atlanta (9-1), Baltimore (8-2) and Philadelphia (3-7).
“We have been down this road before,” Tuck said. “I know the leadership and the veteran guys know what we are up against. We have come out of these situations on top more than not. But every year is different. We can’t rely on the fact that we have the experience of being in these situations. We have to go out and play the game and play it at a high level to be successful.”
The Giants haven’t done that in about a month. Before starting the slump, they edged Washington and Dallas, games they easily could have lost.
“It’s about how you finish,” Nicks said. “We put emphasis on that. Finish the deal.”
They did that, and more, last year, winning the final six games, including the Super Bowl.
“This team feels that we can be the best team in the league when we’re playing our style of football,” Tuck said. “It’s just unfortunate we haven’t played our style of football the last couple of weeks. We have to find a way to get back to playing because it’s going to be needed.”
So, consider the confidence still intact.
“We’ve always been very confident,” Tuck added. “Sometimes maybe too confident — borderline cocky, a little bit. But our confidence, I don’t think, will ever waver on this team.”
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.