(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)|
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Coming off a bye week and despite a two-game losing streak, the New York Giants have a chance to open a two-game lead in the NFC East with a win over the streaking Green Bay Packers.
Thank you, Robert Griffin III.
Washington's phenomenal rookie quarterback opened the door for the defending Super Bowl champions to take command in the division by leading the Redskins to a 38-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
The outcome left both Washington and Dallas with 5-6 records, and gave the Giants (6-4) the chance to make things a little easier if they can beat the Packers (7-3) and snap their five-game winning streak.
That's a big if.
The Giants have a history in recent years of not taking the easiest path, and a loss on Sunday would turn the division into a three-team race with the young Redskins seemingly having the momentum with New York heading down to FedEx Field a week from Monday.
``Huge game, a lot at stake,'' veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora said Friday of the Packers game. ``I'm anxious to see how we come out and play because I feel like we need to respond to the two games we lost, and we also need to still prove we are world champions and play like it at some point. Hopefully, this will be the game.''
Tom Coughlin's team limped into the bye week, blowing a fourth-quarter lead in a 24-20 loss to Pittsburgh at the start of the month and then finished their pre-bye schedule with a dismal performance in a 31-13 setback at Cincinnati.
Add in a late win over the Redskins and a skin-of-the-finger win over Dallas, and New York just as easily could have a four-game losing streak.
The positive for the Giants is that they are rested and they have refocused for a tough six-game stretch run that also includes games with New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia. They are also healthier.
Veteran safety Kenny Phillips (knee) seemingly is ready to play for the first time since the end of September and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (foot-knee) and halfback Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) are feeling better after a week off.
Most of the Giants watched the Cowboys lose Thursday after their Thanksgiving dinner, so they understood what was in front of them.
``Washington is playing pretty well right now,'' Phillips said. ``I think the biggest thing for us is to get this win and go back up two games. We definitely don't want it to be a close race.''
Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was more concerned with the Giants. He wants to see some good team defense, and not the mental errors and blown assignments that have led to way too many big plays. He was encouraged how the team prepared for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who the Giants beat 37-20 in the NFL semifinal in January.
``In terms of where we are, we still can accomplish all of our goals,'' Kiwanuka said. ``So for us, yeah, we'll pay attention to all that, but it's about us getting the wins we need and making sure that stuff (results) doesn't come into play.''
The Giants, however, have shown a flare for the dramatic.
For those who have forgotten, just remember last year. The Giants opened 6-2, like this year, lost four straight and then split with the Cowboys and Redskins to enter the next-to-last week of the season with a 7-7 record.
The rest is memorable. New York routed the Jets with Victor Cruz scoring on a 99-yard touchdown pass play, and won the division on the final week of the regular season with an impressive win over Dallas. The Giants then steamrolled through the playoffs to win their second title since 2007.
It certainly wasn't the easy road.
``We can't continue to shoot ourselves in the foot,'' defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said. ``We have to take advantage of our opportunity. Things like this don't come along all the time. Hopefully we can get this thing going.''
Safety Antrel Rolle said the Giants controlled their own destiny going into this week and that's not going to change, at least for now.
``We're just trying to win out, taking it one game at a time,'' he said. ``Right now we are just focused on Green Bay and what they present. We're looking forward to Sunday.''
Rolle couldn't help but smile when reminded that this team never takes the easy way.
``That's the way we have done it while I've been here,'' Rolle said. ``I'm not saying we're too fond of that way, but sometimes you have to pick up the slack when needed and push forward and that's what we have done as an organization. Right now it's six games to go and that's what we are looking forward, too.''
Coughlin said Dallas' loss doesn't change anything.
``Take care of your own business, that's what I learned a long, long time ago,'' he said. ``Take care of your own business.''
If the Giants do, they will be a lot closer to getting back to the playoffs.
NOTES: WR Domenik Hixon (ankle) and LB Jacquian Williams (knee) were listed as out for Sunday's game. Phillips and LB Keith Rivers (calf-knee) are questionable. DT Linval Joseph (knee) was listed as probable despite being limited at practice on Friday.
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