When Tom Coughlin boarded the plane in Atlanta on Sunday evening fresh off a 34-0 loss to the Falcons, he was under the impression that the Giants would need help to get into the playoffs. But as he sat down, one of the team's staffers gave him an updated look at the NFC situation.
The Giants (8-6) are in ninth place in the conference, but because of tiebreakers and other teams in the race playing each other in the next two weeks, they are guaranteed a playoff spot if they win their final two games against the Ravens and Eagles.
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"I actually questioned it," Coughlin said Monday. "Because the six [besides the Falcons and Packers, who have clinched their divisions] are in front of us at this point in time, so I questioned it and I was very, very careful not to say anything to anyone until I was absolutely sure of what the situation was."
And what did that certainty provide for him and the Giants?
"Hope," Coughlin said. "Hope is the word. Hope is a nice word. If you have that and you have a circumstance which is obviously dismal and extremely disappointing -- when you put your heart and soul into it, it's a heavy burden -- when you create the scenario of hope, it hopefully is going to be an uplifting thing. So when we do come back on Wednesday, we realize where we are and there's a little bounce in our step and we get back to work."
The Giants' reprieve certainly gave them some perspective as they digested their performance against the Falcons. Although the Giants will need help to win the division -- they dropped from first to third place behind the Redskins and Cowboys on Sunday -- their objective is to make the playoffs any way they can.
"In is in," Eli Manning said. "You always want to win the division. That's always kind of the goal at the beginning of the year because that's the only way to ensure that you make the playoffs. But ultimately, hey, it's about getting into the playoffs. Our focus is, hey, you win these two games and, whether we're division champs or a wild card, it doesn't make a difference."
Coughlin agreed that regular-season titles and seedings don't really matter. His Giants have won a Super Bowl as a wild card and as a division champ (and they were bounced in one game when they were the top seed).
What matters to Coughlin is something else:
"Getting in is the important thing," he said. "But you'd like to be playing your best football when you get in. We've got to go some to accomplish that."
They have two games to get there. Chris Canty said there might be enough shock from the 34-0 loss to jolt the Giants into returning to championship form.
"I hope there is," he said. "There needs to be a sense of urgency."
Urgency . . . with a tinge of hope.
"I don't want to make it seem any worse than what it is, because the fact of the matter is, we still have the opportunity to be in the postseason," Canty said. "We still have an opportunity to control our own destiny and be where we want to be. All we want is an opportunity, and we've got that opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it now."