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Giants see game against Bengals as test of their fortitude in tight race for playoffs

Giants head coach Joe Judge against the Philadelphia

Giants head coach Joe Judge against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 15, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Logan Ryan, who has played in plenty of "meaningful" games in his career including two Super Bowl runs, said on Wednesday that when the stakes are high it brings the best out of everybody.

Then he amended that thought.

"It brings the truth our of everybody, I would say."

The Giants are about to unveil who they really are.

They have a meaningful game on Sunday against the Bengals. It is one of their first such contests post-Thanksgiving, the unofficial start of gut-check football, in quite some time. It’s so important that even Joe Judge, who normally downplays and sidesteps any questions about standings in the NFC East, weighed in on the top.

His message?

On your mark, get set . . .

"This is really the starting point for the division," he said of the four-teams all with three wins (and the Eagles in first place by virtue of their early tie against the Bengals). "We’re coming out of Thanksgiving after this weekend, everyone is really on equal ground. The only thing that matters is what we do from this point forward. We have to show consistent improvement. I think our players have done that throughout the year, but nothing before this game is going to matter."

It's a fresh beginning. And in this week’s case, it brings about a new dynamic for the team. They’re playing the Bengals, who have even fewer wins than they do, will be without their starting quarterback and running back, and who, if you believe reports from Cincinnati, are tuning out their second-year head coach. In other words, it’s a game everyone expects the Giants to win.

Now that’s something very different.

"Look, if you start reading headlines and you want to believe the good, then you better be ready to believe the bad because a lot of the same people are writing two different stories about you weeks apart," Judge said of grounding the team that has won two straight and three of the last five. "You can’t go with the rollercoaster up and down . . . Just because we’ve had some games go a different way than maybe earlier in the season these last couple weeks, that does not change how we prepare, it does not change our mindset."

As Ryan pointed out, the Giants have no business looking down their noses at anyone. Not even these Bengals.

"We have three wins," he said. "We’re confident but nobody in this building should be overconfident."

More important than this being a meaningful game is that it become a meaningful result. Washington and Dallas play each other on Thursday and Philadelphia hosts Seattle on Monday night. A win Sunday will give the Giants a share of first place in the NFC East (barring a tie between Washington and Dallas, in which case the Giants could leapfrog from last place to first all alone with a win). That’s a position in the standings they have not held since Week 3 of the 2016 season.

The only player left from that squad had advice for his teammates.

"It’s on us older guys and those who have come in here and have played in the most important games to stress to the younger guys how important it is and how fortunate we are to be in this situation," Shepard said. "We’ve all been on the other side of that."

The way to maintain that fortune is simple. Win on Sunday.

"The urgency is up," Ryan said. "We are where we are, we’re getting better as a team, we’re believing in one another, and we have to play our best football now."

Ain’t that the truth.

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