After finally getting a week off, the New York football Giants will step on the field on Sunday for the first step in defending their Super Bowl title. By finishing as the top-seeded team in the NFC, they earned the right to watch the first round of the NFL playoffs from their couches.
While that may not sound that important, when you factor in that Big Blue’s ‘bye’ week came way back in September that makes quite a difference. “I think it will be a great opportunity for some guys to get healthy,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “It should be a great advantage for us, be we have to use it wisely.”
A glaring one will be extra rest for Brandon Jacobs’ injured knee, who is chomping at the bit to get going. “I had to remind him the game is Sunday,” head coach Tom Coughlin joked.
And that game will be the third meeting of the season with their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. When they stood at 5-5-1, no one gave them a chance in the world to make the postseason. The two main faces of the franchise, head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb, practically had their bags packed for them by the local fans and media. Then something just clicked for the Eagles and they not only qualified for the playoffs in a very unlikely scenario in Week 17, but also ousted the Vikings in Minnesota last weekend in the wild card round.
“Winning cures everything,” said McNabb. “And I think you can’t truly focus on what people may say about you or how one may feel. Really the only thing that matters as an athlete, as an individual here playing in sports or whatever, is for you to focus in on what it is that you are supposed to do.”
Since being benched for the second half during a brutal loss in Baltimore, McNabb has been playing very efficiently and one of the main reasons why his team is here. Immediately following the game, Reid announced that McNabb was still his starting quarterback, which may have been the turning point in Philadelphia’s season.
“I think it has a positive effect on everybody, coaches and players,” Reid said about his quarterback’s play has been since then. “I think everybody stepped up their game an inch, and I am putting myself in that hopper.”
One of those games that the Eagles stepped up in was the December 7 game at Giants Stadium. Avenging the 36-31 loss in Philadelphia on November 9, the Eagles came into a feisty environment and walked out with a 20-14 win that wasn’t as close as the final score may indicate. Even in defeat, the Giants learned that same day that they clinched the NFC East division crown when the Dallas Cowboys also fell defeat. After splitting the regular season contests, this one will hold a much more important outcome. According to Coughlin, the Giants playing more like the first game is key. “We had 400 yards in Philadelphia and 211 yards here; extremely disappointing in that regard,” the man known as the ‘Task Master’ said. “We didn’t rush the ball, we didn’t pass the ball. We didn’t have many snaps.”
Ball control will be one facet of the game that the Giants look to dominate. With Jacobs and Derrick Ward (who will be playing in his first career playoff game after being injured during the 2007 regular season), that gives them two 1,000-yard rushers in their backfield. Keeping the ball out of McNabb and running back Brain Westbrook’s hands will bold well for Big Blue.
Home field advantage throughout the playoffs is something that is earned, and the Giants have a decidedly easier task this year as opposed to three road games en route to Super Bowl XLII. That will all be for naught if they don’t win against Philadelphia.
That is something that Coughlin has drilled into his team’s heads the past two weeks. And you know that they won’t ‘rest’ on their laurels.