It's a phrase that hasn't been floated around East Rutherford for the last several years. But in 2020, meaningful December football has made its way back to the Meadowlands as the 4-7 Giants are fighting to keep hold of the NFC East lead.
It's been a long road for first-year head coach Joe Judge and his young team. The team started 0-5 and then fell to 1-7 on a series of close gutwrenching losses in which the Giants were, in many cases, one play away from victory.
While those losses were tough pills to swallow, they have helped build the team's character that has now won three straight games and sits atop the NFC East division standings.
"Whether it's a meaningful game in September, October, November, or December, we have to learn from every experience we have. It's our duty not only to learn from when we're on the field but also learn from making mistakes," Judge said.
"We're going to have mistakes. We can't repeat mistakes. We have to make sure we keep moving forward and learn from that."
The Giants will have to put up their lessons learned to good use in this week's game against the 8-3 Seattle Seahawks. The trip to Seattle already makes the case to be the most formidable challenge for the Giants season.
But with quarterback Daniel Jones likely out with a hamstring injury, the Giants would figure to have to put up a mistake-free performance to have any chance at a win.
"Obviously, going on the road as a young guy and playing in a tough environment like Seattle, with or without fans, you're playing against a great team, coached very well, plays with a high sense of urgency and energy," Judge said.
Win or lose on Sunday, the most significant objective for Judge and his team, as has been all year, is continued growth and learning from the experiences they endure.
For a team that has been through as much adversity as the Giants this year, the game is also a reward in that they will get the unique opportunity to know what it feels like to play meaningful December football.
"It's an experience that these guys will get to learn from and go forward with their careers," Judge said.
"The competition gets tougher as the year goes on because teams have played together longer, they've created more chemistry, everyone has gotten a little better as a team, and the players across the league all have more experience playing next to each other.
"The competition continues to get tougher, and that's just the nature of the NFL."
The Rise of Niko Lalos
Rookie defensive end Niko Lalos came down with his first career interception in his first career game against the Bengals on Sunday and a critical one at that as it went a long way in helping the Giants protect their 19-17 victory.
Lalos, an undrafted free agent out of Dartmouth, certainly didn't start the season in a position to make a season-defining play. He was only elevated to the Giants' active roster ahead of last Sunday's game after being a practice squad regular throughout the season.
Lalos's performance in practice allotted him that opportunity, as his effort and work ethic was reason enough to overlook his non-Power-5 background and lack of ideal physical measurables in earning his NFL opportunity. It paid off in a big way for the Giants.
"Any time someone shows in practice they can make plays on a consistent basis, we have no problem putting him in the game," Judge said.
"He's a guy that week by week has made constant improvement."
Of Lalos's many desirable traits, the ever-essential versatility played heavily into his recent ascent on the Giants.
"He also plays on the scout team as a fullback and a tight end," Judge said. "We've seen it throughout the year in practice. The opportunity came up for him."
Defending DK Metcalf
Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf has already emerged as a first-team All-Pro. Now in his second NFL season, he has also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and leads the league in receiving yards.
Metcalf's unique combination of elite size and speed will present a challenge unlike any the Giants defensive secondary has faced thus far, as preparing for Metcalf has been a challenge.
"This guy is a rare guy," Judge said. "You try to simulate his size and speed and playmaking down the field. You don't have a lot of guys walking the earth like him."
Replicating Metcalf's presence during practice is not something that just any scout-team wide receiver is capable of.
At 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds, Metcalf is a mismatch for even the best NFL corners, which includes Giants' top cornerback James Bradberry.
Bradberry has been an All-Pro contender himself this year, as he sits near the top of the league in passes defended with 12.
If Bradberry draws the assignment to shadow Metcalf, there's no question he's going to have his work cut out for him. But Bradberry probably would draw Metcalf exclusively--it will likely take a group effort.
And the trick for the Giants is trying to figure out how to simulate what Metcalf brings to the table through their practices.
"We have to work to prepare each other the best possible," Judge said.
"He's an elite player in the league. We can't do anything to just flat out replicate it, so we have to do the best we can in practice, and then prepare our guys mentally so when they see him on the field, they understand it's going to be different than what they've necessarily seen in practice."
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