Eli Manning and the Giants are again facing the Cowboys at a possible crossroads in their season.
They’ve gotten off to a 3-3 start, just as they did last year. They spent their sixth game of the season getting eviscerated by the Eagles in Philadelphia — just like last year.
And now, if they don’t rebound against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, their season could start to spiral out of control.
Just like last year.
These are the eerie similarities between the Giants’ 2014 season and their start to 2015, and they are not lost on Cullen Jenkins. They scare him, actually, because at this time last year, the Giants were in the early days of a seven-game losing skid that would sap the life from their entire season.
And nobody wants that to happen again.
“Yeah, and there has to be a sense of urgency because of that,” said Jenkins, the rare Giant willing to admit the parallels between these two seasons. “You look back at last year and we know what can happen if we let one game start snowballing. Philly was a bad game.”
The Giants know they can’t afford to play another bad game on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. Somehow, for as much as they believe they’ve improved this season, with Eli Manning morphing into a West Coast maestro and Steve Spagnuolo’s defense forcing turnover after turnover, these Giants find themselves in the same predicament they faced a season ago.
Six games in, they are an incomplete, inconsistent .500 team coming off a disheartening loss, perhaps beginning to slip from NFL relevance all over again. Before the loss in Philly, the Giants were riding a three-game winning streak, enjoying rumblings that they just might take the NFC East.
One stunner later, all those good vibes have evaporated. Big Blue remains atop a watered-down division, tied with Philly (3-3) for the NFC East lead. But a loss to a battered, Tony Romo-less Cowboys team in New York? Suddenly, Dallas (2-3) would be back in the division race, and the Giants would be dealing with ghosts of last year’s streak.
“Don’t even call it a big game,” said coach Tom Coughlin. “Call it a game of significance.”
It’s a chance to exorcise the ghosts from last year and the ghosts from last month all at once. It was just six weeks ago that the Giants opened the season against the Cowboys and were one Manning brain cramp away from defeating Dallas, only to squander a two-TD fourth-quarter lead in a 27-26 loss.
Cullen Jenkins acknowledges the similarities between this year’s Giants and last season’s team, admitting there is a sense of urgency to beat the Cowboys.
The Giants haven’t forgotten that loss, either, said offensive lineman Justin Pugh. As much as they want to win to right their season, they want to win for a measure of revenge.
“I’ve had this circled since (we lost) the first game of the season,” Pugh said. “We’re excited to play these guys again. Because of the way the last game went with them, this is definitely one I’ve been looking forward to. I’m excited to get back out there because I’ve had this circled since the first game of the season.”
“We had a chance to win and we let one get away from us,” added Jenkins. “It was big. Now we have a chance to face them again and we have to make sure we take advantage of our opportunities this time around.”
There might be opportunities, too, because this Cowboys team doesn’t seem quite as potent as the squad that stunned the Giants in September. Dangerous receiver Dez Bryant is doubtful to play thanks to the broken foot he suffered in that season opener. Romo is sidelined, and he’s being replaced by journeyman Matt Cassel, who hasn’t started a game since 2013. Dallas comes into this game on a three-game losing streak.
The Giants, meanwhile, remain confident, said linebacker Mark Herzlich. This year’s loss in Philly did not destroy their psyche.
“We still feel really good about this team,” said Herzlich, “regardless of what happened last week. We have a winning mindset. We don’t even for a second think that we are not going to win every week.”
But they do believe, for so many reasons, that this showdown with the Cowboys at the MetLife Corral is a huge game. And they won’t let this opportunity slip away.
“They know, believe me,” said Coughlin. “They know how important this game is. And they know it’s within the division and who it’s against and the fact we played them the first time and so on and so forth. So they’re very much aware of that.”
And this Sunday, they’re not planning to let last year happen again.
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