Sunday is a big day for Jets and Giants
Bob GlauberBob Glauber
Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He
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We haven't seen a football Sunday like this in a long time, a day when both the Jets and the Giants can either breathe life into their playoff chances or have those hopes crumble beneath the weight of their continued incompetence.
Desperation Day is upon us.
For the Jets, who -- believe it or not -- remain alive in the AFC wild-card race despite their myriad problems, Sunday's game against the Jaguars is as close to must-win as possible. Mark Sanchez, whose career is hanging by a thread after he was benched for the first time last week, will get another shot to keep the Jets alive against a team whose playoff hopes vanished weeks ago.
The defending champion Giants, whose season looked so promising at 6-2, still are a game ahead of the Redskins and Cowboys in the NFC East despite losing three of their last four. But that lead is perilously close to disappearing, and they now face a Saints team that trounced them twice (48-27 and 49-24) in the previous three seasons.
How desperate has it gotten for the Giants? So much so that Tom Coughlin, one of the stodgiest and most conservative coaches you'll ever come across, told his players they need to win out.
"It's a four-game season, and we have to win, literally, every one of our games," Coughlin said.
Actually, the Giants still can qualify for the playoffs -- either as the NFC East champion or as a wild card -- even if they don't win out. But they don't want to have to rely on anyone else's help to get there. If they win out, they win the division title.
The way they've been playing the second half of the season, though, they simply don't look capable of reeling off four straight wins, especially with difficult teams in the Saints, Falcons and Ravens on the schedule.
Coughlin didn't think it would come to this -- again -- but he's right back to where he almost always is: trying to explain away yet another second-half slump.
"It's the reality of the situation," defensive end/linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "It doesn't matter who says it. That's the situation we're in. To accomplish our goals, we have to win these last four games."
So what it's going to be? Will the Giants have a repeat of last year, when they won their last two games to capture the NFC East title before making a run to their second Super Bowl championship in five years? Or will it be like the year before, when they blew a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead over the Eagles and then failed to reach the postseason?
"It's not the easiest thing in the world you want to hear," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "But we've been in this position before, where we've had to win games to continue to stay alive for the playoffs. We're no strangers to that, so we've just got to be able to stay focused and get these wins under our belt."
Good luck with that -- even at home against a Saints team that has lost its last two games.
If Drew Brees does to the Giants what he did three times in the previous six seasons, there will be even more doubts. If not, the Giants are likely to get to eight wins and maintain their lead.
Maybe they'll get some help from the Ravens and Bengals, who play the Redskins and Cowboys, respectively. Maybe the divisional lead will become two games with three to play. Or maybe not.
The Jets? Their hold on playoff hope is about as tenuous as Sanchez's hold on the starting job. Rex Ryan would like to see the quarterback to whom he has hitched his wagon since 2009 rally from last week's benching and get on the sort of roll he produced in his first two seasons, when he overcame his own struggles and helped the Jets reach the AFC Championship Game each time.
"I have confidence in Mark," Ryan said. "I am 100 percent confident in my decision and I believe I got this decision right."
He'll find out soon enough. If Sanchez can produce an acceptable performance and get the Jets to 6-7, they'll go into a Dec. 17 game against the Titans with an opportunity to get back to .500 and a chance to stay in the wild-card chase. If not, it will be time for Ryan to get a better look at Greg McElroy, who saved the Jets last week after Sanchez's benching.
"The way I prepare and with the skill set I've been blessed to have, it just doesn't add up to the way I'm playing," Sanchez said a few days ago. "That's disappointing to me. Now it's time to bounce back. Sunday can't come fast enough."
Now Sunday is here, and Sanchez has another chance -- maybe his last -- to prove himself.
It's desperation time again. And not just for Sanchez.