EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) In his rookie season as coach, Ben McAdoo has taken the New York Giants into somewhat neglected territory.
The Giants (8-3) are in the playoff hunt for the first time since 2012, a year they faltered down the stretch, winning two of their last five games to finish 9-7.
Despite riding a six-game winning streak and the second best record in the NFC, New York is going to have to work to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012.
It has the AFC North co-leading Steelers (6-5) in Pittsburgh on Sunday. NFC East leader Dallas (10-1), whose only loss is to the Giants, is at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 11, followed by NFC North-leading Detroit (7-4) on the 18th.
Four days later, the Giants face the rival Eagles on the road, and close out the schedule at Washington on Jan. 1. The Redskins (6-4-1) have the second-best record in the wild-card race, right behind the Giants.
For a team that has not put it all together this season, especially on offense, the playoffs are not guaranteed.
''As a team, where do we go from here?'' McAdoo asked. ''It's December football. This is where the real football begins. All our hard work to this point has set the table for December. It's an exciting time against a lot of playoff teams and playoff environments. The margin for error is small. This is where our identity needs to take over.''
The Giants' identity has been that of a team that gets things done. For the most part, it has been star players stepping up and making plays.
In the 27-13 decision over the Browns (0-12) on Sunday, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul led the way with seven tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble return for a touchdown. Eli Manning added three touchdown passes, including two to Odell Beckham Jr.
The constant in the winning streak has been the play of the defense, which has been led by safety Landon Collins.
McAdoo insists the Giants won't be focused on making the playoffs.
''I think it's important to address the elephant in the room, so to speak,'' McAdoo said. ''Everything gets cranked up a notch in December with everyone jockeying for position. We just need to make sure we play our best football moving forward.''
If any group has to step up, it's the offense. It has been inconsistent most of the season, especially the running game.
While the Giants scored 27 points against the Browns, the defense set up the first touchdown with a turnover at the Cleveland 31 in the second quarter. Pierre-Paul's return got another touchdown.
Special teams also need to improve. Cleveland got three points after Bobby Rainey muffed a punt, and a Mark Herzlich holding penalty nullified a punt return for a touchdown by Beckham in the fourth quarter.
''I think it's great that we have players that can change the game in one play,'' McAdoo said. ''We need to be mentally dialed-in to play a complete game at all three phases for four-plus quarters. We really need to cash in on that in December.''
NOTES: McAdoo refused to say whether Beckham would continue to return punts down the stretch. ... Herzlich and safety Nat Berhe were hurt in the game and are starting the week in the concussion protocol. It's the second time this season for Berhe. ... Rookie receiver Sterling Shepard not only failed to catch a pass for the first time this season, he also was not targeted. McAdoo called it unfortunate. ''We're not completing enough balls or moving the chains as much as we need to move the chains for everyone to get involved. ... It's too early to tell whether Gs Justin Pugh (knee), Brett Jones (calf) and Marshall Newhouse (knee) will be able to practice this week, McAdoo said. ... McAdoo did not know if RB Shane Vereen, who has been on injured reserve with a triceps injury since Week 3, would practice this week.
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