Super Bowl run not guaranteed for Giants

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin reacts

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin reacts to a call during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md. (Dec. 3, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Let's face it, there is not much any of us can write or say about the Giants at this stage without them having every right to respond simply by raising two fingers in our faces. Gaudily decorated ring fingers, that is.

So it was that no one argued with defensive end Justin Tuck when he said this after Monday night's maddening, 17-16 loss to the Redskins:

"We've been down these roads before. It's always tough. Honestly, I like it that way. In the NFL you really never have any easy games, but I like the fact we have to play our 'A' game in every game we play from here on out.

"I think we play good in that role."

That they have, most notably last season at this point, when after the ritual Squandering of the Strong Start they got their acts together, won three of their last four regular-season games and ran the playoff table.

But Tuck's spin, echoed by several teammates, also sounded a lot like rationalizing.

Just because it came together for Super Bowl sprints after the 2007 and '11 seasons does not mean it will again. This is a dangerous way to do business, and given upcoming games against the Saints, Falcons and Ravens there is a real possibility the Giants will rationalize their way right into a January vacation.

In 2009 they started 5-0 and were 7-5 after 12, then dropped three of four. In 2010 they were 9-4, blew a massive lead at home against the Eagles and saw the playoffs slip away again.

Would it hurt to make things easy on themselves -- and their fans -- for once?

All of this is great for TV ratings and newspaper back pages, but the Giants are fooling themselves if they think they are so cool they can just flip a switch when the time comes and all will be well.

That is a tough sell in any pro sport; it is lunacy in the NFL.

Adding to the drama is that the teams in pursuit of the Giants are the Redskins and Cowboys. USA Today reported that after Monday's victory gloating owner Dan Snyder used a profanity in telling a Redskins employee how much he hates the Giants.

It's a reasonable bet that Giants president John Mara feels similarly about the Redskins and Cowboys, but he has the good sense -- and class -- not to say so in public.

Oh, well, all in good fun, right? OK, maybe "fun'' is not exactly the right word.

"It is what it is," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after watching Redskins phenom Robert Griffin III win the game and receive ESPN attention on a Tebow-esque scale. "We have to play better football and find a way to win games."

Identifying the problems is not difficult. When I happened upon GM Jerry Reese on his long walk to the losing locker room, the first thing he mentioned was not turning red- zone chances into touchdowns.

If we had had more time we could have discussed failure to stop the run, a chronic problem, and crushing penalties, which previously had not been a big problem.

The Giants have lost three of four; the Redskins have won three in a row. Sure, this still could end Feb. 3 in New Orleans for the Giants; it also could end Dec. 30 in East Rutherford.

"It's a four-game season and we have to win literally every one of our games," coach Tom Coughlin said on a cranky conference call with reporters Tuesday.

That is not true mathematically, but it does figure to be a fight to the finish.

"Obviously, we knew that going in," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "We knew that it was not going to be easy."

When is it ever?