This isn't something that shows up on the stat sheet, or even in the win-loss column. You can't put a number on it. It's impossible to quantify with any accuracy.
But trust me when I tell you that this factor is as important as any passer rating, or sack total, or field-goal percentage. For lack of a better term, we'll refer to it simply as team chemistry. And it can often be the difference between a team winning a championship, or being torn apart by internal dissent.
Tom Coughlin refers to it simply as "team." It's something he stresses from the very first meeting of training camp, to the mind-numbing week-to-week grind of the regular season.
"We work on that from the very beginning," the Giants coach said yesterday, a day after the Giants' 45-12 Monday night rout of the Redskins. "It's not something that only happens at certain times. We do spend an awful lot of time talking about the team concept and about the fact that you can take the name off the back of the jersey and the team is the most important aspect of it."
Impressed by the Giants' stunning performance in their backs-to-the-wall effort against the Redskins? You should be. The Giants looked as good as they have all season. But you should be just as impressed with the fact that the Giants, despite all their problems over the past two months, are as united now as they were during a 5-0 start.
It doesn't mean they will make the playoffs. The Giants will likely have to beat Carolina and Minnesota, and still need help from other wild-card contenders Dallas, Philadelphia or Green Bay. But it does mean that if the Giants make a run for the postseason, it will be because they didn't come apart at the seams during a 2-6 stretch before Monday night's win.
Look at some of the other teams. The Cowboys have imploded in recent years, in part because of poor chemistry. The Vikings are now threatened with a late-season wobble after losing two of their last three and Brett Favre and Brad Childress are now experiencing a rough patch over whether Favre is taking too many liberties with the game plan. The Eagles always seem to find their way through assorted crisis points involving Donovan McNabb. Same with the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era.
Talent is essential to winning. But so is collective resolve. For the Giants, that resolve never went away, even as the season seemed to spiral out of control amid a defensive meltdown under rookie coordinator Bill Sheridan.
"We just have too many high-character guys in here, and we won't let that happen," said Osi Umenyiora, who was removed from the starting lineup after a Thanksgiving loss in Denver. "Even with my situation, I could have taken it in a different way, but there's no point in that. We're a team, and we'll win and lose as a team. You go through a season like this where everything is so up and down. If you fracture, then you know you don't have a solid foundation for your team. The fact that we didn't and that we're going to stick together and fight no matter what shows a lot of heart and character."
That might not be enough to save the season. But if the Giants do somehow find a way to the playoffs, it will be as much because of Coughlin's insistence that there be no finger-pointing.
"That's huge, especially in a city like New York, where the fans are so demanding and doubt can creep in," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "We've won a lot of games in the last few years, and when we don't win, things get magnified. But it's a testament to the leadership of our team that they still have a lot of faith. We expect to win and get to the postseason, and we'll keep fighting until that's not an option any more."