Starting from last Monday when Rex Ryan declared the Jets the better team, the New York Giants were fueled with motivation.
They had one of their best weeks of practice all season as Tom Coughlin noted that his defense worked “with more energy, more enthusiasm and greater speed than we had in a long time.”
“It was shocking,” Coughlin said. “I looked up and said, 'Is that the same guys?'”
The Giants were inspired and focused on the Jets as if their Christmas Eve showdown were a postseason game.
And their win set up an even more important game –- a winner-takes-the-NFC-East tilt against the Dallas Cowboys.
If the Giants win this coming Sunday night at home against the Cowboys, they’ll be NFC East champs after sweeping Dallas.
If they lose, they’ll sit out the postseason for a third straight year.
“They get bigger as the week goes on,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said of the stakes. “This was a playoff game for us. We needed this one to accomplish our goal and we need next week to accomplish our goal. The stakes will get bigger.”
Of course, the big question with the Giants is always how their heads will be from week to week. Maintaining their focus, intensity and energy level has been a problem this season.
This past week, the Jets made it easy for the Giants to remain motivated with all the chirping.
The Cowboys almost certainly will not provide the Giants with the same kind of bulletin board material. So will the Giants be able to carry over the intensity from the Jets to another rival in Dallas?
“We don’t [know],” defensive captain Justin Tuck admitted. “A lot of times we get up here and talk and sometimes we play like we know the future. We don’t. All I can say is we have a blueprint on how to do it and we need to come out and do it.”
“Can I promise you that we will come out and show that passion?” Tuck continued. “I wish I could tell you that I can see exactly what is going to happen in eight days. But I can’t. But I promise you that I will do my part to let the team know that I am all in and hopefully we come out and give the effort we did.”
Several Giants do believe that the rivalry with Dallas, along with the division crown and a playoff berth at stake, will fire them up.
“It’s a division game, Cowboys don’t like the Giants, Giants don’t like the Cowboys,” cornerback Corey Webster said. “So I don’t think it will be too hard to get up for that game.”
Coughlin will allow his team to savor the win over the Jets on Christmas. But it’s back to work on Monday and the focus shifts toward winning one more game against a hated rival for the division and a postseason spot.
“To be honest with you, we need to put this one aside as fast as we can and go to work on Dallas with the same attitude we had last week,” Coughlin said. “Basically, I just walked into the team meeting [last] Tuesday and said, ‘if we win two, then we are in. I am not going to focus on last week’s game at all, everything that we are going to do is in front of us.’”