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Giants say they must start this season off on a winning note

New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara (20) at

New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara (20) at minicamp at the Quest Diagnostic Training Center on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

Prince Amukamara is entering his fifth season with the Giants and looking to do something he has never been able to accomplish in his career.

Start 1-0.

That's because the Giants have lost four straight season openers, a trend that has them so jittery about Sunday's game in Dallas that some are straight-faced calling it a "must-win" contest.

"I think that can break the team's morale," Amukamara said of dropping the first game of a season. "Especially with the guys who have already been here and have already experienced 0-1 and then 0-2 and then 0-6 [in 2013] . . . You don't want that feeling around here. It's a bad disease.

"I would say for sure it's a must-win."

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins echoed that term.

"We have to stop putting ourselves in a hole early," he said. "We have to start 1-0. You don't want to say something is a must-win game because it's a long season, but at the same time our whole mindset is we have to win this. It is kind of a must-win game. We always emphasize winning the division, so in that aspect, it's a must-win game."

The Giants did go on to win their two most recent Super Bowls after losing the opener -- in 2007 they lost the first two in fact -- but for a team that has seen back-to-back seasons roll downhill like a snowball turns into an avalanche, getting off to a fast start seems imperative.

Not only have the Giants lost four straight openers -- the second-longest active streak in the NFL -- they have started back-to-back seasons with at least two losses. That has happened only one other time in franchise history, in 1995 and '96. As Jenkins pointed out, when you lose the first game it takes two straight wins just to get back to a winning record. Lose more than that, and the hill becomes steeper.

"As an outsider looking in, I could see everyone . . . getting tight and everyone feeling like they're on the hot seat," Amukamara said of a potential Giants loss. "There's a lot riding on this game."

Tom Coughlin, whose teams were not long ago chastised for late-season collapses, wanted no part of discussing the recent trend of early-season ones.

"I'm not interested in that part of it right now," he said. "All I'm interested in is getting these people ready to play. I'm excited about playing, and let's go see what we've got."

They'll likely go into this all-important, tone-setting, uber-significant game without Victor Cruz, who did not practice Wednesday due to his calf injury. That will take one option out of a loaded offense that generally puts up big numbers in Dallas.

"Obviously it's best to get on top of things before they get on top of you," said Odell Beckham Jr. who, for all of his accomplishments, has never played a down for a team with a winning record in the NFL. If the Giants can somehow win on Sunday -- they're underdogs by close to a touchdown in most betting lines -- that would change.

A whole lot would change. Expectations. Perceptions. Maybe the future of the season.

Barring a tie, the Giants will either be on top of the world for their flight home late Sunday night, or feeling like it is crumbling around them.

"One-and-oh is the best you can be after Week 1, and 0-1 is the worst," Jenkins said. "And you don't want to be the worst."

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