The last time the New York Giants as a franchise played any kind of meaningful football this late in the season was back in 2016 when they went 11-5 and earned a Wild Card berth as runner up in the division to the Dallas Cowboys.
Back then, defensive lineman Leonard Williams was in his second NFL season as a member of the Jets while tight end Evan Engram was finishing up his college career at Ole’ Miss. Since that season, the Giants have struggled to replicate that success, their 2017-19 seasons unofficially ending on a sour note by Halloween at the latest.
That’s not the case this year. Despite a 3-7 record, the Giants remain a half-game out of first place in the NFC East, a division that is a far cry from decades past when the division’s participants were the cream of the crop in the league.
But despite no team in the NFC East holding a winning record or running away from the pack, the race for the division crown and the fact that the Giants are still alive in the hunt has helped renew the competitive spirit within the Giants as a team.
“Yeah, it’s a lot of meaningful football for us,” said Engram. “We’re heading into it with the right mindset, getting ready for it.”
That right mindset, as emphasized repeatedly by head coach Joe Judge, has been to stay in the moment.
Judge has refused to use the division race as a sort of carrot for his players, believing that they are better off keeping their eye on the here and now and to worry about improving instead of scoreboard watching.
“It’s kind of hard for us to look that far ahead,” Williams said. “If we do something like that, we might mess around and overlook a team. We really have to focus week by week. Right now, we have the Bengals and we’re looking to go 1-0 after this bye week.”
But if there is just the tiniest bit of excitement among the ranks in knowing that by going 1-0 against the Bengals that puts them one week closer to their first division title since 2011, it would be hard to imagine Judge taking a sledgehammer to their growing excitement in the same way Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy went after some innocent watermelons last weekend.
“When it’s meaningful football, and the playoffs are involved, everybody’s sense of urgency goes up,” Engram said. “For me, it’s different being here the last three years in the situations that we’ve been in. I know it’s different for a lot of the young guys that are here that are just coming into the league and getting their opportunity to play meaningful football.
“Our motivation right now is getting better each and every day and attacking each opportunity going into the week, like we have now going against Cincinnati. But it is a special opportunity that a lot of guys are ready for,” he added.
Williams, who came close to a playoff berth with the Jets as a rookie only to miss out, agreed.
“This is definitely the time where you have to play some of you best football,” he said. “We’re kind of past that halfway marker, so we just have to tighten things up a little bit tighter. Make adjustments and just keep moving forward. We just came off of a bye week, so people should be feeling fresh and ready to attack the rest of the season.”
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