"This game is not about them," the safety said of the Giants' most important contest of the season, "it's about us."
Although there are scenarios for the Giants to clinch a playoff berth today, as well as one in which they can be eliminated, the most direct path for the Giants is to win their final two games. That would guarantee "us" a playoff spot.
Trouble is, no one in the Giants' locker room seems to know who "us" is. Are the Giants the team that blew out the Saints two weeks ago, 52-27? Or the team that was shut out by the Falcons last week, 34-0?
Inconsistency has hampered the squad's ability to predict which of those teams -- world-beaters or just beaten up -- will show up on any given Sunday.
Even coach Tom Coughlin is perplexed. He doesn't really know the identity of this Giants team, either. "It would be easy for me to say I do," he said, "but the reality of it is we haven't been able to play to substantiate what I would say is the personality of this team."
The Giants can't afford any more identity-crisis games. With two to play, they urgently need their Super Bowl-winning selves to show up Sunday.
They practiced well this week, Coughlin said, but even that is not a reliable harbinger. "I've been fooled a couple times this year," he said. Including last week.
So who are the Giants? A sampling of theories:
Jason Pierre-Paul: "I know one thing for a fact, I feel like we are one of the best teams in the NFL. [But] week after week, you don't know what you are going to get from us. We are not consistent until I guess somebody is going to get fired or our backs are against the wall or it is either all or nothing. That is where we are at right now."
Victor Cruz: "We're a team that's desperate . . . I think our mind-set has shifted a little bit and understanding that this is do or die, and we get it. We get it. We understand."
The team they are facing today is similarly befuddled. The Ravens were 9-2 but have lost three straight games. They already have clinched a playoff spot but still are fighting for a division title and a more prestigious seeding in the postseason.
Things got so bad after the Ravens lost to the Broncos last week that quarterback Joe Flacco assessed the mood of the team as winless. "We're a 9-5 football team, and it feels like we're 0-14 right now," he said. "That's just the feeling that you have right after a game like this. It's going to test a lot of things in us guys."
What the Giants have going for them in this test is that they've already aced it in the past. They were 7-7 at this point last year before rattling off six straight wins, including a Super Bowl victory. This year's team is not relying on that happening again, but the Giants are confident that they can snap out of a season in which their play has bounced like the marker on a Richter scale. They also know that at this point in the season, each of the last two Super Bowl champs was on the outside of the playoff scenario looking in.
"No one said that we're going to go out there and win every game and play your best football every game," Manning said. "You hope you do that, that's always the plan. Sometimes it's not going to work that way. This week, we're going to prepare to go out there and play our best. That's all we can prepare for."
That's all they can hope for, too. Because while their best certainly has been good enough, their worst has surfaced much too often this year. Which is why their season comes down to two games . . . if they are lucky. It could be over by the time they get home from Baltimore. Then it would be easy to answer the question of who the Giants are. They'd be disappointing.
"We have to go out there and play ball, man," Rolle said. "Like I said, damn everything else, go out there and win at all costs and make sure we get it done."
All aboard! All of the key Giants players who were listed as questionable for the game against the Ravens made the trip to Baltimore with the team Saturday. That includes DE Justin Tuck, who did not practice all week with a shoulder injury, and RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who missed last week's game with a sprained knee. The only Giants player not with the team is TE Travis Beckum, who aggravated his knee injury late in the week. Beckum was downgraded to out.