EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - The calendar has turned to December, stretch run time in the NFL and a cold reality check for playoff contenders such as the Giants and Jets who square off in Sunday’s greater New York showdown.
The 5-6 Giants are tied with the Washington Redskins for first in the mediocre National Football Conference East, where the division winner will claim a playoff berth.
The 6-5 Jets, deemed visitors for the game at MetLife Stadium which they share with the Giants, are locked in a battle for an AFC wild card spot.
In their last clash, the Giants entered the 2011 game with a 7-7 record and the Jets were 8-6, but Big Blue took a 29-14 win and never lost another contest on their way to a Super Bowl triumph over the Patriots.
“We know what’s ahead of us,” long-snapper Zak DeOssie, one of the few remaining Giants from that championship team, told Reuters in the locker room after Wednesday’s practice.
“We have to make a push here and we’re doing everything we possibly can to make that happen.”
Coach Tom Coughlin has challenged his players to step up over the last five games of the season after last weekend’s lacklustre 20-14 loss to the Redskins when a win would have given the Giants a two-game lead.
“I think we’re going to bounce back and play a much better, complete football game than we did last weekend,” the coach said.
“People have got to extend themselves this time of year. If it’s that important to them, extend yourselves. We’re in December now, there’s not many games left to play.
“There’s no reason not to commit yourself totally and completely to something you’ve spent your life wishing and hoping for.”
Coughlin was counting on a big performance from quarterback Eli Manning, who won his second Super Bowl MVP award in that 2011 season finale.
“He’s our guy and he’s done it so many times before, Coughlin said. “He can do it, he’s done it before.
“(But) guys have got to catch the ball. He’s not out there by himself.”
Giants players downplayed the rivalry aspect of the game, focusing instead on playing to their potential.
“It’s a game that’s important for our season. We’re looking at it that way,” said Manning, who was more concerned about the bruising defensive line of the Jets and their strong pass rush.
“They’re big guys and they’re athletic,” he said. “They do a good job bringing different pressures. They tend to change up from week to week, give different looks and try and confuse the offensive line and the quarterback.”
Manning and DeOssie both sensed urgency on the practice field.
“We talked about going all in,” said Manning. “Not doing the talk but actually making it happen.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes