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DALY: Giants have made habit of winning at right time

- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION: 

Feels good, doesn't it? Feels good to have the New York Giants coming to FedEx Field for a late-season game that actually matters. Feels good to think the home team might have the better quarterback, certainly the more dangerous one. It's been too long. Way too long.

When the Giants and Redskins renew antagonisms in the Week 13 finale, it'll almost be nostalgic. After all, the last time the two clubs met in such circumstances — in Washington, on a Monday night, with significant chips on the table — was 1985. Joe Theismann was quarterbacking the Redskins. Ronald Reagan was quarterbacking the country. (Yup, that was the game Lawrence Taylor and his band of merry men descended on Joe and broke his right leg, ending his career.)

The Giants defense still has plenty of arrows in its quiver, as witnessed by its 38-10 destruction of the Green Bay Packers last week, but the Redskins continue to scramble for a seat at the NFL's grownups table. A victory over division-leading New York (7-4), though, would give them their first three-game winning streak under Mike Shanahan and perhaps pave the way for better things — if not this season, then next.

It'll be interesting to see what history has to say about this team of Tom Coughlin's, these Millennial Giants. They're an unusual two-time Super Bowl champ, to say the least. Normally, a club that wins two Lombardi trophies in five seasons (2007/2011) is demonstrably better than most of its competition. But in the regular season, at least, the Giants have been utterly underwhelming. In '07 they went 10-6 (and were the NFC's fifth seed). Last year, they went 9-7 (and while winning the NFC East, had only the sixth-best record in the conference). Two of their seven losses, moreover, came against the last-place Redskins. The horror.

It's been much the same this season: gems against Green Bay and San Francisco (26-3, on the road) mixed with less-than-inspired performances against Dallas (a 24-17 home defeat) and the Redskins (a 27-23 win that easily could have been another home defeat). Indeed, it took a 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz in the last two minutes — a complete brain-lock by the Washington secondary — to keep the Giants from starting 0-3 in the division.

And yet they're they only thing standing between the New England Patriots and five NFL titles. That's as many as the Green Bay Packers won under Vince Lombardi. Heck, it's as many as any of the league's dynasties has won, George Halas' Monsters of the Midway included.

So there you have it: the Giants conundrum. You could make the argument that Coughlin's club mails in more games than any Really Good Team in the Super Bowl era, any team that has won multiple rings. Consider: The Giants posted a 19-13 regular-season record in their two championship years (a modest .594 winning percentage). The '05/'08 Steelers were 23-9. The '01/'03/'04 Patriots were 39-9. The '97/'98 Broncos were 26-6. The '92/'93/'95 Cowboys were 37-11. See what I mean?

And yet the Giants knocked off the 15-1 Packers (at Green Bay), the 14-3 49ers (at San Francisco) and the 15-3 Patriots en route to the title last season. And when they won it all in '07, they pushed their way past the 13-3 Cowboys (at Dallas), the 14-3 Packers (again at Green Bay) and the 18-0 Pats. Only a Mean Football Machine is capable of something like that.

So where is this Mean Football Machine the rest of the time? Don't talk to me about injuries. The Giants weren't hurting when the Redskins cuffed them around in New York last December. Don't talk to me about parity. The aforementioned clubs — the Mike Tomlin Steelers, the Bill Belichick Patriots, the Mike Shanahan Broncos, the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys — were assembled in the same era. As for the Hot Team theory, there have always been hot teams; but name another that got hot twice in five years, after nothing-special regular seasons, and won two championships.

What we're witnessing with Eli Manning and his mates — Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and the rest — is unique, unprecedented. Call it Group ADD. Call it whatever you want. When these Giants have their backs to the wall, though, they have a habit of summoning, home or away, the necessary effort. It's remarkable.

Monday night, they'll be at FedEx with a chance to put a headlock on the division. Which Giants team will show up, the turn-it-on Giants or the turn-it-off Giants, the postseason worldbeaters or the disinterested bunch we saw at MetLife Stadium a year ago? The Redskins' hopes of playing in January, on the big stage, could well depend on it. Lose this one, and they're left to scuffle around for a wild-card berth. Of course, that's where it all started for the Giants, back in 2007.

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