The Giants were good enough to beat the Dolphins on Monday night. Good enough to stay alive in the NFC East. Good enough to earn a momentary reprieve from their three-game swoon and taste victory for the first time since Nov. 8. It felt pretty . . . good.
“There’s no doubt winning is the biggest factor,” Tom Coughlin said of what the game meant to the team. “I think there will be a certain measure of accomplishment.”
But will good be enough to push them through to the playoffs?
We’re about to find out, and Coughlin will remind his players on Wednesday morning that what topped the Dolphins likely won’t put a dent in the unbeaten Panthers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
“I think the question I’ll have again for our players will be: ‘OK, so we did this the other night . . . Do you realize how much we’re going to have to improve over that as we prepare to compete against an undefeated team?’ ” the coach said on a conference call Tuesday.
If they don’t, they soon will. The Panthers are the last of the undefeated teams in the NFL, sporting a sparkling 13-0 record. They have the presumptive MVP in quarterback Cam Newton. They have a stingy defense led by All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. And they still are playing for something; the Panthers have clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs but have yet to secure the top seed and home-field advantage throughout.
The Giants are certainly playing for something, too. With three games remaining and in a three-way tie for first with the Redskins and Eagles at 5-7, they already consider themselves to be in playoff mode.
Even if they do win the final three, there is no guarantee they will make the postseason. The variations on tiebreakers between three teams with three games left — including two games between two of the teams in the logjam — are almost too numerous to ponder. So the Giants won’t.
“Man, I don’t even know what place we’re in,” Rashad Jennings said on Tuesday. “I know we’re relevant . . . We’ve got a great opponent coming in. We were happy to get that win and learn from the mistakes, continue to progress on the success, and get ready for the rest.”
The Giants have something of a history when it comes to facing late-season unbeatens. Their most celebrated regular-season toppling was in 1998 when they beat the 13-0 Broncos. In 2007 they faced the 15-0 Patriots and lost. In 2011 they faced the 11-0 Packers and lost. Both of those defeats helped forge the team for a Super Bowl run, but the Giants likely do not have the leeway for any moral victories this time. They need actual wins, not figurative ones.
Coughlin said he will not shy away from embracing the challenge of thwarting Carolina’s bid for perfection.
“We’ll use whatever motivation we can,” he said.
They’ll have to play at a much higher level than they did on Monday to compete against the Panthers. Those passes which Ryan Tannehill missed to a wide-open Jarvis Landry are ones that Newton has been completing all year long. That broken coverage that allowed Odell Beckham Jr. to break free for the game-winning touchdown usually doesn’t happen in the Panthers’ secondary.
So that win against the Dolphins? It was just a warm-up.
“I think the groundwork will be laid,” Coughlin said of bringing momentum from that game, “but there are a lot of things that have to be done better.”
With Erik Bacharach