The team had just finished stretching on Thursday and the players were headed toward their various stations for drills when all of a sudden the loud music stopped. The fieldhouse was eerily quiet. The players then jogged to the middle of the field where linebacker Jonathan Casillas was calling them all together.
It was the moment when the regular-season ended and the postseason began for the Giants.
Technically that happens on Sunday in Washington after the Giants finish their 16th game on the schedule. But Casillas made sure everyone understood how important this game is to their future, that preparations for the wild-card round — and possibly beyond — cannot be crammed into the space of one week.
“We all needed to hear it,” defensive end Kerry Wynn said of the surprise address.
It’s rare, the players said, for practice to come to a standstill like that so one player can talk. Once in a while Ben McAdoo will do it when he has something to say. This time, though, it was one of their own bringing the team to a standstill, grabbing their collective attention by the lapels, and letting the truth as he knows it come flying out of his mouth.
“If anybody lost perspective, he put us all back into it,” defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. “J.C. is a great captain. When he speaks, people tend to listen so it’s always good to hear from him.”
Now more than ever. Casillas is one of the few Giants players who have won two Super Bowls. He was a rookie with the Saints team that won it in 2009 and on the 2014 Patriots. In a locker room where the majority of players have never even been to the postseason — there are only 16 who have — the “been there, done that” guys are the ones who need to step forward from here on out.
“It’s cool coming from a guy who has won two Super Bowls taking the time to make sure we’re on the right page and getting our mind set right for this week and the playoff push we’re about go upon,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “Those are the guys who have been there before and some of the leaders on our team. We’re definitely leaning on those guys.”
“He’s got good insight, good experience,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of Casillas. “You’re going to draw on all of that, the coaches and players who have been through it before.”
Casillas was not available to the media on Thursday. His message, though, was made clear.
The Giants were already in that mode a bit anyway. They were wearing shoulder pads for half the workout, a rarity at this time of the year. That gets players’ attention. The last time McAdoo had them hitting each other like that was after the loss to the Steelers. They wound up winning two in a row against Dallas and Detroit to solidify their playoff resume.
Then, along came Casillas with a verbal reminder to McAdoo’s equipment-based one that things are about to get real.
“I think it’s important that we get some momentum going into the playoffs,” Kennard said, echoing Casillas. “After losing last week [to the Eagles], we want to get this one. We know that in their minds it is a playoff game. We expect the intensity to be a little higher than it has been. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
And it’s not good enough for the Giants to simply match that intensity.
“That’s the exciting part,” Kennard said. “We don’t want to match it, we want to set the tempo.”
Even veterans who have been through playoff runs appreciated Casillas’s pep talk.
“I think Jon was reiterating something that we’re all feeling,” said linebacker Mark Herzlich, a member of the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl team. “It’s obvious the position that we’re in. Our playoff fate doesn’t matter win or lose this week, but we want to start momentum and we want to go into the playoffs with momentum. It starts now, it doesn’t start a week from now.”
It started Thursday.