Tom Coughlin understands the fascination. These things don’t happen very often.
“I get it where everybody wants to focus on their 13-0,” he said of the gleaming, pristine record of the Panthers, the Giants’ opponent on Sunday.
But the record he cares the most about changing is the Giants’ 6-7.
“I want to focus on our chance to win the division, that’s where I’m coming from,” Coughlin said. “And to beat a team of this stature, at this time of year, to give you the kind of momentum you need going down the stretch here, would be outstanding.”
Maybe it’s partly because when it comes to ruining otherwise perfect seasons, the Giants have more experience at it than just about any other team. Of the six teams in the Super Bowl era that have gone 13-0 or better and eventually lost a game, two of them have been derailed by the Giants (the 1998 Broncos and the 2007 Patriots). The Giants’ history in these matters goes all the way back to 1934, when they beat the 13-0 Bears for their first NFL championship in the “Sneakers Game” at the Polo Grounds.
But mostly it’s because the far-from-perfect Giants need to be just about impeccable in their final three games to get into the playoffs. Coughlin said he looks at this game as the first of three must-wins for the team.
“I always look at it that way,” he said of the remainder of the schedule. “One game at a time, but we’re in a position where you have to rely on yourself. The only way you can do that is to go out and play your best.”
If the Giants can win, at the very least they will keep pace with Washington and the Eagles, who join them in a three-way tie atop the NFC East. Those two teams face each other next week.
Winning out might not be enough, however. If both the Giants and Washington finish 9-7, the division title will go to Washington via tiebreaker. The Giants still could squeeze out a wild card in that scenario, but it would require another loss by the Vikings besides the hypothetical one against the Giants next week.
With all of that hanging over the Giants, it’s still hard to look away from that 13-0 record.
“You have a team that’s undefeated, there’s some excitement,” Eli Manning said. “ ‘Hey, can they finish the season undefeated? Can they be the team to go to the Super Bowl, be undefeated?’ There’s all that . . . For us, it’s important because it affects our season. We’re playing for a playoff spot and we’re not really concerned with their situation. It’s more our situation that’s driving us.”
If the Giants do lose, like every other team that has faced the Panthers, they’ll need plenty of help to make the playoffs. Maybe even a miracle. A Giants loss with wins by Philadelphia and Washington on Sunday would require those two teams to tie next week to keep the Giants mathematically alive.
When they lost to the unbeaten 2007 Patriots in the regular- season finale, they got another chance in the Super Bowl. When they lost to the unbeaten 2011 Packers, they got another chance in the playoffs. The unbeaten 2015 Panthers?
“This is a perfect time to play a team like this,” newly signed defensive tackle Barry Cofield said, “because if you can’t beat a team like this, then you are not going to win in the playoffs.”
If they can’t beat a team like this, more than likely, they won’t even get there.