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Oh, bye the way: Giants eager to enter off week on a winning note

New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and

New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora celebrate a fumble returned for a touchdown by Michael Boley during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Nov. 4, 2012) Credit: AP

The NFL is a week-to-week grind, with everyone's focus on the upcoming opponent. This week, for example, the Giants are playing the Bengals, and that team has gotten most of their attention. But it is understandably difficult for them not to look beyond that team and at least take a peek at next week's foe.

Or lack thereof.

The Giants get their bye week -- finally -- after this game in Cincinnati. And boy, do they need it.

After a turbulent season that has had emotional peaks and valleys and has been physically grueling, the players and coaches will have at least a few days and one weekend to recalibrate, recoup and rev back up for the second half of the season.

When the 2012 schedule was released in the spring, coach Tom Coughlin said he liked having the bye in Week 11 because "it's closer to the middle of the season." Now that his team has had to play nine regular-season games to get here -- plus four preseason games for a total of 14 straight weeks without a break -- he has to remind them not to overlook the 10th before their vacation. This is the TGIF game on their schedule.

"I've called upon them to be pros, to focus," Coughlin said. "I'll take care of everything next week for them. They don't have to worry about that. What they have to worry about is the Cincinnati Bengals game and practicing our best and then playing and performing to the best of our ability."

Week 11 is the last week for byes in the NFL. The Giants, Vikings, Seahawks and Titans will be the final teams to get a rest. The Vikings and Titans have lost two in a row. The only one of those four exhausted teams that won in Week 9 was the Seahawks, who are 5-4 (perhaps the Jets can take advantage of their fatigue later Sunday).

The Giants have been through a lot. They've played an abnormal schedule at the beginning of the season, including games on Wednesday and Thursday night and three of their first four games in prime time. They've also flown across the country to play the 49ers, had to face the Cowboys knowing superstorm Sandy was bearing down on their families back home, and come back the next week with the impossible task of lifting the spirits of an entire region crippled by the storm.

Whew! No wonder the Giants look a bit weary. No wonder they already have been pointing to the bye as a chance to get healthy -- both mentally and physically.

The bye also will give them a chance to get some players back on the field. Safety Kenny Phillips and linebacker Jacquian Williams are expected to return after the pause. Battered players Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks certainly will be able to rebound a bit with a week off.

Their schedule does not get easier after the break. They'll have six games remaining: two against the division rival Eagles and Redskins, two playoff rematches against the Falcons and Packers and a trip to Baltimore. The only team with a losing record looming on the other side of the bye is the Saints, about as dangerous as a 3-5 team can be.

Before they can start to rest up, though, the Giants have one more obstacle. "It's important to win," Coughlin said. "Every game is a critical game in your schedule. It doesn't matter whether there's a bye coming or what it is."

The players have heard it.

"To be 7-3 heading into that bye is going to be huge for us," Justin Tuck said.

Of course, they'll be 6-4 if they lose. "That's a huge swing," Tuck said. "We know that the bye is coming up, and that's a good thing because we've got some guys banged up that need to kind of recharge their batteries. But our focus is not the bye. Our focus is Cincinnati."

And beating the Bengals to make it a good bye. "A lot of teams would like to be 6-3. We'd like to be 7-3," Coughlin said. "I think 7-3 would be a nice break."


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