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EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - After more than a month of tunnel vision, the New York Giants have just about climbed out of their 0-6 hole with a crucial showdown against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday next on their must-do list.
The Giants, who have won two Super Bowl titles over the last six years, can hoist themselves to within one game of NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles (6-5) with a fifth consecutive win, which would tie them with Dallas at 5-6.
Most of the Giants on Wednesday adhered to the mantra of 'one game at a time' but with time running out in the season outspoken defensive back Antrel Rolle underlined the importance of the Cowboys' game.
"I feel like this game is definitely going to determine the outcome of our season," Rolle told reporters at his locker after practice. "I think this is such a huge game. I think this is a game we can't afford to walk away with a loss."
A defeat would put the Giants two games behind Philadelphia with five games left and leave them effectively two games behind Dallas, who won the season opener against New York.
"We're very much aware of having dug ourselves a very, very deep hole and started to make some progress to get out," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
"It's nice that we do have a challenge of this nature. We call it an opportunity. We have a six-game schedule, one game at a time.
"Just prepare ourselves as best as we possibly can for each opponent and do the very, very best we can and hopefully keep our dreams alive."
Dallas beat the Giants 36-31 in Week One, taking advantage of six New York turnovers, including three interceptions off quarterback Eli Manning, two fumbles and a muffed punt.
That sloppy showing began a turnover trend that plagued the Giants until they started their methodical climb out of the pit.
Two-time Super Bowl most valuable performer Manning has grown more efficient in recent weeks, though he has yet to balance the ledger, with 17 interceptions against 12 touchdown passes.
His opposite number on the Cowboys, Tony Romo, has thrown for 21 touchdowns with just six passes intercepted. Dallas is coming off a bye week.
Coughlin hopes that having a core of players who have stood tall in previous must-win situations will help the Giants.
"I'm counting on it," the coach said. "I'm counting on the same fervor that has kind of built up over the last few weeks, and that it just gets better.
"And that the leadership group is in the core of pointing this thing in the right direction."
Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Gene Cherry