Chris Snee usually spends time on the field an hour or so before the game when the Giants play in the late afternoon, as they did Sunday. He warms up, gets a feel for the arena, then sits and watches the early games on the big screen at whichever stadium he's in.
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On Sunday, that meant watching the Cowboys and the Redskins, both of whom trailed for most of their games.
Snee felt pretty good about that when he went into the locker room to dress for the game. By the time he came back out for kickoff, though, the face of the division had changed.
"They were losing when I came in and they won when I came out," Snee said. "Not the ideal situation."
Both of the Giants' rivals for the NFC East title won on the last play of their games. Before most fully digested the implications of that -- the Giants kicking off tied with two teams in the win column -- they trailed by a touchdown on an interception return.
A must-win game had become even must-ier. Just the way the Giants like it. And they responded as they often do in such defining moments: with authority.
The Giants scored more points in a game than they had since a month before they won their first Super Bowl, forced four turnovers against the high-powered Saints offense and rode rookie David Wilson's breakout performance to a 52-27 victory. They improved to 8-5 and stayed a game ahead of the Cowboys and Redskins, both 7-6.
While Snee was keenly aware of the scores from elsewhere in the division, others paid attention to them with varying degrees of interest. Justin Tuck said he found out at halftime. Hakeem Nicks said he didn't know about it until he got to the locker room after the game and was told what had happened by reporters. Mathias Kiwanuka said he saw the scores but didn't process their importance because he was so focused on the Giants' own game.
And Tom Coughlin turned the tables on reporters by asking his own question during his postgame news conference: "What happened?"
He was told of the two dramatic wins by the Cowboys and Redskins and seemed surprised that both won on the final play.
"But," he said, "we won, too, didn't we?"
That's all that matters from now on. Coughlin has sold the Giants on this season ending with four must-have games, and now there are three left.
"We're the only team that can win 11 games, and that's our mind-set is to win out," Snee said. "That's our goal. We're the only ones who can get to 11."
They looked like a team that could Sunday, serving up a dominating performance despite some uneven play at times. Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers and Wilson got to execute three backflips, one for each of his touchdowns. He set the franchise record for all-purpose yards in a game (327) and broke the team's single-season record for kickoff return yardage (1,321).
The defense seemed to respond to Antrel Rolle's call to be nastier, and Rolle backed up that challenge with a hand in three of the four turnovers and a third-down tackle in the red zone.
The Saints (5-8) are all but eliminated from playoff contention. They almost certainly will have to watch another NFC team play for the Super Bowl in their building in February.
"We're used to winning, and we still are,'' quarterback Drew Brees said, "and that's why it hurts and it's painful."
That's not to say the Saints gave up. On the contrary. With the Giants leading 35-13 midway through the third quarter, they scored a pair of touchdowns to make it a one-possession game at 35-27. The Giants responded, though, with a 60-yard kickoff return by Jerrel Jernigan that set up a touchdown pass to Victor Cruz (eight catches, 121 yards), and the Giants scored the game's final 17 points.
It may not have been as exciting as the endings for the Redskins and Cowboys, but it sent a message to those teams that no matter how well they play and how many games they win from here on out, it won't matter as long as the Giants keep winning.
"Good for them," Nicks said after learning the scores and some of the dramatic details. "We're worried about us over here. I'm worried about us taking care of what we have to do."