The Giants had just lost to the Jaguars, their seventh straight loss, and it was an awful one. They blew a 21-0 lead in what became a 25-24 defeat, ruined coach Tom Coughlin's return to Jacksonville and established themselves as one of the worst teams in the NFL.
At the podium after that Nov. 30 loss, Eli Manning stared out at the cameras and left the script for a moment. Rather than the polished answers he usually gives in trying times like these -- in any times, actually -- he seemed to be thinking out loud. Brainstorming, almost, about what had gone wrong not only in that game but for the previous two months.
"We just don't have it quite figured out how to win the game," Manning said. "I don't know how you teach that."
The Giants have won three games in a row since that low point, beating three other teams with losing records. As they wrap up the regular season Sunday against the Eagles, they'll reflect on the season as a whole and the last stretch of games in particular. But as they look to the future (with bright eyes, thanks to the contributions of almost a dozen rookies and second-year players), the most significant thing about the last month has not been winning itself. It's been learning how.
"I feel like we're figuring out ways to win," Manning said this past week. "I think it's important. I think it's important for that group of guys to come together to figure that out. It comes when you do have some wins and you overcome obstacles and you deal with things. I think you have that expectation that you can handle whatever anybody throws at you. It might be a bad drive or a bad play, but you're going to erase it and be prepared with the mind-set that you're going to be able to go win that game, and I think that's where we're getting."
The Giants certainly were not there all season long. Too many times early in the season, something went wrong and they would crumble. A penalty killed a drive. A turnover swung a game out of control.
The Giants have had penalties and turnovers in recent weeks but overcame them and were able to keep from nose-diving. That, Manning said, is a sign of a winning team.
It may seem odd to have a group of players who have known football success throughout their lives but need to learn how to win. These are guys who won state titles in high school, played in bowl games in college and were considered the best of the best just to make it in the NFL. And they don't know how to win?
Preston Parker clarified it a bit when he said that what the Giants really needed to learn was how to win together. That this group needed to learn how to rely upon each other, to trust one another. That bond was evidenced when Parker started throwing punches last week against the Rams, but it also shows in different ways. Ways that can't necessarily be seen or quantified.
"If you ask me to write down the formula to winning, I don't know if I could give it to you, but I definitely think this team has come together in a way that it hasn't at any other point in the season," rookie running back Andre Williams said. "Guys are closer. I don't think it's just the Christmas season, either. Guys are really leaning on each other to get the victory on the field."
The Giants have a chance to finish the season with four straight wins in a non-Super Bowl-winning season for the first time since 1998. Doing so would lift the team's spirits a bit heading into another playoff-less offseason, but will it help make up for all the losing that preceded the winning streak?
"Probably not," Coughlin said in his weekly interview with Giants.com. "I'm not into whether or not it makes you feel any better or not."
Nor is Coughlin into the "what ifs" of the losses from earlier in the season.
"I can't afford that," he said. "I stay away from that. What good is it going to do? It's not going to change anything. Certainly, I remember certain things that put the elevator on the bottom floor in the basement, but nevertheless I try to stay with where we're going and the next opponent."
At some point in the next few days, that attention will shift. The next opponent will be more than eight months away. The focus will shift to reflection on the 2014 season, what went wrong and what went right. What was lost, what was gained. And, most importantly, what was learned.
If "how to win" is at the top of that last list, maybe this season has been more successful than it seemed.