MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Odell Beckham Jr. was sick all week -- really, he was.
The New York Giants' star wide receiver said after Monday night's 31-24 victory over the Dolphins that he'd contracted some kind of stomach bug early in the week and needed three IV fluid treatments (two at halftime) to get through the game -- a game in which he caught seven passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
Eli Manning made a speech early in the week -- a longer and more passionate one than he usually makes to his teammates. The theme was a simple one, and it echoed throughout the locker room following the Giants' victory.
"We had the mindset that our playoffs start now," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "These games we're playing are playoff games. If you lose one, you don't end up where you want to be."
This Giants team is short in a lot of areas, but it has a championship quarterback and a truly excellent wide receiver. On Monday night, with the defense struggling to tackle anyone in a game the Giants absolutely needed to win, Manning and Beckham played the way you need to play to win playoff games. Because for them, that's what this was.
"We obviously knew what happened yesterday, [with] the other teams, so we had to stay on track," Manning said.
The Giants landed in South Florida on Sunday just in time to watch the Bears miss a game-tying field goal against Washington and the Eagles hang on to beat the Bills. So the Giants knew both of those teams were 6-7 and they needed to win this game to stay in that three-way tie for first place in the NFC East. From the pregame locker room to the fourth-quarter huddle, the talk and the focus were at playoff-caliber intensity.
"Our approach tonight was that this was a playoff game for us," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. "Couldn't have any other result but a win if we wanted to stay alive."
So every time the defense got gashed in the first half, the offense came right back. The Dolphins kicked a field goal with 1:56 left in the first half to go up 17-10. Manning got the ball at his own 20 and hit Will Tye for 5 yards, Beckham for 45 (plus a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty), Shane Vereen for 10 and Tye for a 5-yard touchdown. It took a little over a minute to tie the game.
After Kenny Stills roasted Prince Amukamara for a 47-yard third-quarter touchdown that put Miami up 24-17, Beckham tied it with a toe-tapping touchdown catch in the end zone that needed to be replayed in order to be called correctly. And two plays after a Miami punt pinned the Giants at their own 4-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Manning hit Beckham for an 84-yard touchdown for the winning score.
That play came on a slant-and-go route that the Giants haven't used much. Manning and Beckham said they hadn't practiced it since Week 5. But Manning gathered his receivers before the game and told them they'd use it if they caught the Dolphins' defensive backs setting up in quarters coverage. The Dolphins did, and Beckham pulled off the plan with great precision.
"Phenomenal job by Eli to check into it, see the coverage was something we'd seen on film," Beckham said. "He brought it up today, and sure enough it was right there."
It was playoff-caliber preparation and execution by the two players who will need to put the Giants on their backs if they are to lug this shabby roster into January. The road from here is tough -- unbeaten Carolina next week, a good Minnesota team on the road the week after and then a Week 17 matchup against an Eagles team that seems to own them. The odds are still heavily against the Giants making this year's playoffs. But those odds are a lot better than they would have been had they lost Monday. And they owe that to their two playoff-caliber stars.