The phrase “run the table” has bounced around quite a bit this week, mostly in relation to the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. A few months ago, when that team was 4-6 and had lost four straight, Rodgers acknowledged that there was only one way for them to get to the playoffs. They had to win the rest of their games. Run the table.
Sure enough, they did, culminating with a victory over the Lions last Sunday night to clinch the NFC North title, the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and a date with the Giants at Lambeau Field Sunday afternoon.
It’s a nice story.
The Giants, though, they’re seated at a different table. One with a view of a vacant spot in a trophy case that they’ve been staring at since the first day of the offseason program in April. One that had its own six-game winning streak at one point but also has been bumped into and jostled, had wobbles fixed with matchbooks under the legs. And one that, if franchise history is any indicator, either will be cleared by the end of the day or set for another championship run.
See, this is the playoffs. It’s a run-the-table world for everyone. And the Giants have no doubt that they can do it just as well as the Packers did in the regular season.
“Of course we can run the table,” All-Pro safety Landon Collins told Newsday this week. “We have the guys. We have the defense. We have the offense. We have the weapons. All you have to do is put us between those lines and you’ll see what happens.”
For the past quarter-century, the Giants have been all-or-nothing in the playoffs. In only three of the previous 22 years have they won a postseason game, and all three of those times, they wound up in the Super Bowl. Twice they won it. Five times in that span they were one-and-done, eliminated with a loss in their first playoff contest.
There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground when it comes to the Giants in January. It’s an identity this team embraces.
“I think we understand that when this organization, this team, makes it to the dance, we just make the best of it,” wide receiver Victor Cruz said. “We turn on another gear, hit another switch and put ourselves in position week in and week out throughout the playoff run to be successful.”
That’s been the idea since they first gathered in the spring, when rookie head coach Ben McAdoo pointed to that open place on the wall of the team’s meeting room where the picture of the next championship team will hang. Will it be them? Will it be this group immortalized?
If they get past this game, there’s a pretty good shot, and not just based on history. Beyond the Packers in the playoff pool lies the Cowboys, a team the Giants have beaten twice. They remain the only team to have beaten the Cowboys at full strength (Dallas lost to the Eagles in Week 17 while resting starters). A banged-up Seahawks team. A Lions team they already have beaten. And the Falcons who have quietly earned the No. 2 seed.
There is no juggernaut in the NFC, at least not until the winner of this game is decided. Whoever emerges from this classic showdown of offense versus defense, Rodgers versus the NYPD (New York Pass Defense), fastball pitcher versus power hitter, undoubtedly will be the team no one remaining in the conference wants to face. This has the feel of an NFC title game. It just happens to be taking place in the wild-card round.
Neither team was assured of its spot here. The Giants had their struggles. They have an offense that has not scored as many as 30 points in a single game this season. They’ve had controversies ranging from the serious (kicker Josh Brown and allegations of domestic violence) to the ridiculous (the wide receivers’ mini-vacay in Miami this past week). They’ve had Odell Beckham Jr. be labeled a distraction by McAdoo for taking his frustrations out on a kicking net, and Beckham save their season with touchdown catches against the Cowboys and Ravens. They’ve had a defense that has used a $200-million influx of talent and grown together to go from the worst statistics in the league a year ago to some of the best.
“I like this team,” McAdoo said. “I said it all along, we have talented men of integrity . . . We went through some hard times early in the season. We stayed focused, stayed together, fought through the hard times and learned how to win.”
The Packers did run that regular-season table, and last Sunday night, in their locker room, smiling and exhaling, they looked like a team that had crossed a finish line.
After their win last Sunday in Washington, the Giants looked like a team coming out of the starting blocks.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Cruz said of the previous championship runs (he was a part of one). “It comes down to a big play, a big catch or drive that we need to do to win it, but we always seem to make it happen.
“Hopefully we can do it again. We’ll see what happens.”
Comparing Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers this season: