EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the second straight season, Week 15 meant one thing for the New York Giants: letting the NFC East slip through their fingers.
Last year, the Giants collapsed by blowing a 21-point lead in a matter of minutes to the Philadelphia Eagles and watching DeSean Jackson dance into the end zone to finish them off.
This year, the Giants didn't even bother to show up as they were dominated by the Washington Redskins for the second time this season in a mind-numbing 23-10 defeat.
The Giants (7-7) looked like a team that didn't want to be in the playoffs, handing their slim lead in the NFC East right back to the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) and placing their topsy-turvy season squarely on the edge of a cliff.
Unbelievably, the Giants still control their playoff fate. If they find a way to survive a two-game gauntlet against the New York Jets and Cowboys, both at MetLife Stadium, the Giants are NFC East champs and able to wipe the slate clean and start a new season. That, at least, is the best-case scenario for Big Blue to make the playoffs without outside help.
Make no mistake, these next two games are going to feel like steel cage, no-holds barred matches. And it's fair for anyone to wonder how an inconsistent team that admitted it lost its intensity and didn't want the game as much as the 5-9 Redskins will end up beating the Jets and Cowboys -- two teams that are fighting for their playoff lives as well.
Antrel Rolle said he could sense the team did not play in "fight mode" on Sunday, certainly not enough to come back against Washington when they should have been battling tooth and nail for their season.
"They can dial up whatever kind of game plan," Rolle said. "That's football, if you don't got it in the heart, I don't know. Washington, they're not a bad team at all. They always play us extremely tough ... But we're 10 times better than what we showed out there on the field today."
Still, the outspoken safety said this team has the heart to rebound and make the playoffs, and that Giants players, including those who are nursing injuries that aren't major, have to show it starting this week in practice.
"Of course we have it," Rolle said when asked if his team has the heart to rebound. "It has been proven that we have it. Honestly, I don't know why we don't go out and just play [with] it every game. It starts in practice man. This s--- starts in practice.
"And you know what? We need to have everybody on the field," Rolle said. "If you are injured, then so be it, you are injured, we understand that. But nicks and bruises, everyone needs to be on the field, man. Because we are not getting better like this."
Rolle clarified that he was not "calling anyone out." Defensive captain Justin Tuck (toe) and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday due to injuries before returning to a limited practice on Friday.
"What I am saying is this: if you are going to play Sunday, whoever it is -- granted some injuries you can't fight through, I understand that -- but little nicks and bruises, if you can push through it, push through it because the team needs you," Rolle said.
"I am not pointing fingers, I don't even know who practices half the time," he said. "It is not anything that happened today. I am just speaking in general. For example, Justin Tuck didn't practice throughout the week but I think he had a pretty positive game. It's hard for me to tell what defensive linemen do but I think he went out there and fought each and every play and was very productive."
Tuck, who has battled through neck, groin, ankle and toe injuries this season, responded by saying that "no one knows your body better than you do."
The issue, though, is with all of the Giants' bodies -- and with what is going through each of their heads. The Giants are impossibly frustrating. They are a team that can take Green Bay down to the final play of the game and beat Tom Brady in his own house but also be swept by Rex Grossman and lose at home to Seattle and Charlie Whitehurst.
Sometimes, though, they can be flat when faced with an unsexy opponent like the Redskins at home and a cushion in the standings, even a tiny one.
"Sometimes we come out and lay an egg, and today we laid an egg," Tuck said.
"I can't tell you why the passion wasn't there," running back Brandon Jacobs said.
One certain thing is the Giants won't be able to overcome an off day by Eli Manning, who was held without a passing touchdown for the second time this season by the Redskins and threw three interceptions.
On top of that, the Giants won't win when Hakeem Nicks drops a sure touchdown, they commit eight penalties (including a holding penalty that nullified a touchdown) and the defense continues to let receivers run loose in the secondary.
Despite losing five of their past six games, the Giants are still in the playoff hunt and their crosstown rivalry with the Jets should be enough to jolt some life back into them.
"This week will be, I hate to say the word, a wake-up call," Tuck said. "It never should come down to that. Sometimes we get home and think we can just make things happen when we need to. Today was the eye-opener that you have to keep that intensity going the entire game."
"Our backs are definitely against the wall now," Tuck said. "This [Jets] game is going to be a lot of intensity, because both teams are playing for playoff spots and the intensity that is the Jets-Giants rivalry as far as who owns New York. There is going to be a lot of emotions flying in that football game."
Finding emotion and intensity would be a nice start for a team trying not to let the NFC East slip away for a second straight season.