The Giants left Pittsburgh on Sunday night with a 24-14 loss, a nearly empty bandwagon, and plenty of doubts about their playoff aspirations.
But they also left as an eight-win team, which is still one more than the next closest wild-card contender in Tampa Bay and two more than Washington.
“Everything is in front of us,” running back Rashad Jennings said Sunday after the game. “We have to find a way to keep it that way.”
That starts on Sunday against Dallas in one of the biggest home games in several seasons. The NFC East leaders come to MetLife Stadium riding an 11-game win streak with two rookies leading the offense. The Cowboys, holding a three-game lead on the Giants with four games to play, can clinch the division title with a win.
The Giants? They can clinch momentum for the final quarter of games with a victory.
“It speaks for itself,” defensive end Olivier Vernon said of the importance of Sunday’s game.
“This game coming up is huge,” Jennings said.
It’s also a chance for the Giants to prove that their 20-19 win in Dallas in the opener was not a fluke or a lucky escape. They remain the only team to beat the Cowboys this season, although given how rapidly things change in the NFL from game to game, comparing Week 1 with Week 14 might as well be comparing 2007 with 2016.
The Giants haven’t studied the Cowboys yet for this upcoming game, but they’ve had plenty of chances to watch them on television.
“They’re a completely different team,” linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said, comparing them to what he saw in Week 1. “They’ve learned a lot of things. Of course we’re a different team than Week 1, too. This is a new game.”
How have the Cowboys improved?
“They’re on an 11-game winning streak,” Sheppard said. “That speaks for itself.”
The Giants are on a one-game losing streak. Which kind of speaks for itself too. Their challenge this week will be to move past the loss to the Steelers and refocus quickly.
“We gotta get it out of our minds quick because we have Dallas coming in and that’s a big game,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.
They also have to get their health right. The Cowboys are coming off a 10-day break having last played last Thursday. The Giants are banged up, especially at the most critical of positions when it comes to facing Dallas. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul left Sunday’s game with a groin injury and both defensive tackles, Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison, had to be helped off the field with injuries (they both returned). This is the group that must now face the NFL’s best offensive line and the league’s leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott.
“Their football team is just like everybody else: They have good players on the offense and good players on the defense,” Vernon said. “Can’t wait to see them on Sunday.”
By the time they play that game on Sunday night, the Giants could be in must-win mode. Washington plays the floundering Eagles at 1 p.m., and Tampa Bay hosts the Saints at 4:15. Lose to the Cowboys and the Giants could enter the final three weeks of the season holding a tenuous one-game lead against a trio of current six-win teams for the final wild-card spot, all three of which — Washington, Minnesota and Green Bay — hold head-to-head advantages over them.
The Giants aren’t looking at that, though.
“The big picture will take care of itself,” Sheppard said.
First, though, the Giants have to take care of Dallas.
“We can’t take any losses,” safety Landon Collins said. “[The Cowboys] have been doing a good job of winning close games and playing well. We have to come with it and take it to them.”