A year ago, the Giants were doing a lot of head-scratching. They were the defending champions, they had been in first place two-thirds of the way through the season, and then they inexplicably collapsed.
This year's record was two games worse and the ultimate result was the same -- no playoffs -- but the Giants (7-9) believe they have something going for them as they prepare to turn the calendar.
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"We're definitely looking forward to 2014," Antrel Rolle said yesterday, the day after the Giants' season ended. "I think we found an identity here. I think we understand what areas need to be cleaned up and how to get it cleaned up, and just move forward."
That identity was missing when the 2012 season ended.
"With those last couple of games, I really didn't know what took place," Rolle said of blowout losses to the Falcons and Ravens that doomed the 2012 campaign. "Especially when you have things in the grasp of your hand and you don't close it out and you come out pretty flat through those games.
"This year, this team, I couldn't be more proud of these guys. I think we fought extremely hard, especially to overcome the 0-6 start."
That was acknowledged by nearly everyone. John Mara said it was a testament to the coaches and leaders that the team did not splinter after the tough start.
"It was tough to sit there and watch that, it really was," he said. "The one thing I will say, I've been around a lot of teams, both winning and losing in my lifetime, and at least the locker room held together. There wasn't any finger-pointing. There wasn't any mutiny down there, and I've seen a lot of that over the years."
Tom Coughlin said he addressed the players at Monday's meeting with a quote from Nelson Mandela.
"Don't judge me by my successes but rather by how many times I fell and got back up again," Coughlin said, reciting the statement. "That's what I felt about this team . . . This team did come together and have an identity."
After the Giants lost their first four games, Rolle predicted that they would win their final 12 and that they still could reach the playoffs. When it became clear that wouldn't be the case, he curbed his boasts. Now that the season is over, though, he apparently is willing to return to the brashness business. Said Rolle, "We will be back come 2014."
That kind of confidence was not around when the Giants packed their bags a year ago. Rolle hopes it remains in place when the Giants return in about seven months.