Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
LANDOVER, Md. - The Giants confronted December Sunday night knowing that after earlier victories by the Cowboys and Eagles in Week 13, their flickering playoff hopes were further dimmed.
Then they began by playing that way, looking every bit like a team that left its spirit and its season at MetLife Stadium the previous Sunday when it lost a pivotal game to the Cowboys.
But by the time their nationally televised game against the Redskins was over, the Giants had escaped with a 24-17 victory, some pride and the sense that with a quarter of the season left, there at least is reason to care.
"There's no quit in this team,'' Eli Manning said. "We'll keep giving it our best shot.''
Those are standard comments in situations such as this, of course, but the Giants earned the right to feel relatively good about themselves for at least one night.
And there was a practical side to the great escape, too. That is because in some ways, the Giants' relative stability makes the stakes higher for them during the final month than for a team such as the Jets.
Sure, New York's other 5-7 team has a coach and a quarterback unsure of their status for 2014, so the season-long referendum on them continues. But if the Jets don't win another game, they will be someone else's mess to clean up.
The Giants, on the other hand, know who their quarterback will be and are pretty sure who their coach will be, so avoiding a late freefall will make for a more positive, productive way for them to go into the offseason.
A respectable finish against a challenging closing schedule also would ease some of the pain of watching another NFC team use the Giants' practice facility during Super Bowl week.
Well, maybe not. But at least it will offer a balanced perspective for an organization that must figure out just how far away it is after a year ruined by injuries and an 0-6 start.
The Giants have won five of six, which is good, but it also highlights the shame of how they ruined their season, and how the one game they dropped since then was the worst possible one to lose.
Early in Sunday night's game, it appeared the Giants were headed for a nationally televised humiliation after allowing the Redskins to score two touchdowns before the visitors recorded one first down.
It was a worst-case scenario for a team that could not and did not hide how much the loss to the Cowboys hurt.
Even coach Tom Coughlin admitted to NBC's Bob Costas in an interview before the game that at age 67 and after so many years in the game, it is getting more difficult to bounce back from tough defeats.
"There are a lot of nights where I might be sitting there by myself in the dark with my wife sitting next to me and not much conversation going on,'' he said.
"But again, you have to talk to yourself about getting back up because it's not about me, it's about our team. I really have to be strong for our team.''
Then, out of the blue, it seemed as if it occurred to the Giants that even if there is to be no postseason, there are games to be played and future jobs and contracts on the line.
"They truly did show what they're made of,'' Coughlin said.
It added to the happy vibe that Justin Tuck, the supposedly fading star of defenses past, had four second-half sacks, 1½ more than his season total entering the night.
"I don't think we could have quit,'' he said. "I don't think we have quit in us.''
There are those no-quit clichés again. Even the Redskins mouthed them in the week leading up to the game, and they now are 3-9.
But rallying cries and feel-good victories are all the Giants have to reach for now.
Coughlin struck the right tone when someone asked if he is "happy'' that his team has gone 5-1 in its past six games after going 0-6 in its first six.
"I don't know if that's the right word,'' he said, a nod to the bigger picture of the team's predicament. "I'm happy to win.''