In final stretch, Giants need to play like world champions

Victor Cruz of the New York Giants celebrates

Victor Cruz of the New York Giants celebrates after he scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium. (October 21, 2012) (Credit: Getty)

A new mural was added to the Timex Performance Center this past week. It's on a wall outside the Giants' weight room and celebrates the Super Bowl XLVI championship, complete with images of key plays, key players and a team photo right in the middle. It will serve as a reminder to future Giants of what the 2011 squad accomplished.

It comes at a pretty good time to remind the current Giants, too. After going almost a month without a win and about five weeks without playing good football, and after spending the last two football-less weeks answering questions -- self-imposed or otherwise -- about what is wrong with the team, the plan Sunday is to rekindle those championship embers and go back to what's right.

It was less than 10 months ago that the Giants hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis. Slapping the pictures of that day on the wall couldn't come at a better time.

"We need to prove that we are still world champions and play like it at some point," Osi Umenyiora said, challenging the Giants to snap out of whatever midseason snooze they are in the midst of and return to the type of football that results in victories, trophies, murals, immortality. "Hopefully this will be the game."

It's not a must-win for the Giants. They aren't at that point yet. A loss to the Packers Sunday night at MetLife Stadium would be disheartening, but the Giants still would be a game in front of their two closest opponents in the NFC East. But that's not the way the Giants want to begin their second season, a new start with a six-game stretch.

"We've played crappy football over the last couple of weeks," Justin Tuck said. "We really would like to swing this momentum back in our favor. We'd really like to come out of this football game feeling very confident about where we are as a football team heading into the rest of this schedule. It's just a great opponent, a great measuring stick for our football team, to see exactly where we are."

"Toward the end of the year, you get in these types of games and you're searching," Eli Manning said. "This is an important one and playing against good teams, we hopefully can rise to that occasion. I think we've done that pretty well in the past. So we just have to make sure that our preparation and our focus are perfect and go out there and just play the style of football that we know we can."

This will be the 12th game since 1990 that matches the two most recent Super Bowl winners. Nine times out of 11, the most recent champion has won, including the last seven. It's also the third time the two teams will meet in the last year.

"We know what our challenge is and what type of team we're going against," Manning said. "We know we have to play very good football, and that's what we expect. We expect for us to go out and play solid, play smart football, make plays, and that's what it's going to take to win."

"Huge game, a lot at stake," Umenyiora said. "I think we'll be ready."

In the 2011 regular season, the Giants had lost three straight before losing to the Packers. That 38-35 result, which capped a four-game losing streak, was met with some optimism, though. It showed that the Giants were capable of at least playing close games against the best team in the NFL at that point. It was the first time in a long stretch that the Giants played well, and it helped catapult them to the playoffs.

Tuck said that won't cut it this season.

"For me, there's no good loss," he said. "You play this game to win the games. That's all that matters. At the end of the year, that's what they look at, wins and losses. It doesn't matter if you lost by one or you lost by 50. Me personally, I really want to win every game I go into."

It's hard to come away with moral victories when you're used to producing mural victories.

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