Playoff picture buoys Coughlin's spirits

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Finding out Sunday night the Giants would make the playoffs by winning their final two games gave coach Tom Coughlin optimism on what had otherwise been a demoralizing day.

"Hope is the word. Hope is a nice word," Coughlin said of what that scenario invoked. "When you create the scenario of hope, hopefully it's going to be an uplifting thing, and when we do come back on Wednesday we realize where we are and there's a little bounce in our step and we get back to work."

The Giants lost 34-0 in Atlanta on Sunday, and no longer control their fate in the NFC East. But they will wrap up at least a wild-card berth by defeating Baltimore and Philadelphia the next two weeks. The Giants could still get in by splitting the next two games, but would need lots of help to grab a spot.

"This is an opportunity you ask for. A situation you want to be in," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We like our chances. We know what we have to do and it's right in front of us, and we have to go win this game this week."

As it stands now, the Giants would miss the playoffs, which made Coughlin skeptical at first when he was told the Giants controlled their own fate. The scenarios work out, though, to benefit the Giants, especially since NFC East rivals Washington and Dallas play each other in the final week.

According to NFL.com, there are two scenarios in which the Giants would clinch a playoff spot this week, and there is one scenario in which they could be eliminated altogether. It seems more likely that Big Blue will have to sweat it out until the final week of the year.

The Giants faced an identical scenario last year. If they beat the Jets and Dallas to close the season, they were in the playoffs as the NFC East champions. They won both games, of course, and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Several players, though, said that experience doesn't carry over to this season.

"Everything is different year to year, and though we've been in this circumstance before, we just can't rely on just kind of turning it on," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "We have to make sure we continue to go back to work and continue to prepare. Bring more effort and more energy and focus on the details so we can put ourselves in the absolute best position for Sunday."

Canty wants to see a much better defensive effort against Baltimore.

"We need to be more physical. We're not knocking anybody back right now. We're not shedding blockers," Canty said. "We're not tackling. I think we said we had 18 missed tackles yesterday. That's not championship defense."