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Although Buffalo in December may not be the most pleasant place to play football, just getting away from home might be the best thing right now for the New York Giants.
The Giants hope to ride their seventh straight road victory to a playoff berth on Sunday when they visit the Bills for the first time in over eight years.
With a chance to secure a playoff spot for the third consecutive season, the Giants (9-5) instead put forth a very disappointing performance in a 22-10 home loss to Washington last Sunday night.
Coming off consecutive road wins over Chicago and Philadelphia, New York appeared poised to take a step closer to locking up the top wild card in the NFC. Playing at home, however, has provided no advantage for the Giants, who are just 3-4 at the Meadowlands this season.
“There’s no panic button,” linebacker Antonio Pierce. “It’s not the end of the world. We are 9-5, and there are probably 15 other teams that would love to be 9-5. I don’t think we’re sitting that bad.”
While the Bills (7-7) could prove to be a very dangerous opponent - having already been eliminated from playoff contention - the Giants won’t mind being on the road, where they have won six in a row since a season-opening loss at Dallas.
Only New England (7-0), Indianapolis (7-1) and the Cowboys (6-0) have better road records than the Giants.
The loss to Washington was New York’s first this season against a team with a losing record. The Giants had been 9-0 versus clubs under .500 while 0-4 against teams with winning marks.
Should the Giants fail to beat the Bills, their playoff hopes could come down to a meeting with unbeaten New England in the regular-season finale at Giants Stadium on Dec. 29. Because the Patriots don’t figure to suffer their first loss Sunday against 1-13 Miami, New York could be in a position where it needs to end the NFL’s first perfect regular season since the 1972 Dolphins in order to reach the playoffs.
Whether at home or on the road, the Giants’ offense has been very underwhelming lately. They have been held to 21 points or fewer in seven straight games, but have managed to win four times in that span - all on the road - thanks mainly to the NFL’s seventh-ranked defense (303.3).
Eli Manning and New York’s offense never really got going against the Redskins, managing only one fourth-quarter touchdown.
“It wasn’t that we were outcoached or they outschemed us, we just didn’t perform well,” Manning said. “We had chances, but between some throws being off and some drops here and there and some miscommunications in protections, it was enough mistakes in different categories where we just couldn’t get in a rhythm.”
Although the cold and windy conditions dictated otherwise, Giants coach Tom Coughlin had Manning throw the ball 52 times, the second-highest total of his career.
Coughlin defended the strategy as having been dictated by the circumstances of the game, in which the Giants trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half.
“Nobody wants to throw the ball 52 times,” Coughlin conceded. “But we didn’t exactly knock them dead with the run in the first half. When you are down 22-3 and you are trying to find some way to get back in the game, then when there is something that had been good to us in the past, we have to continue to try it.”
Manning and the Giants figure to be in for more of the same on Sunday with the forecast in Buffalo calling for rain and snow showers with temperatures around 35 degrees.
New York will be without an important piece of its offense for the rest of the season after tight end Jeremy Shockey broke his left fibula last Sunday. Shockey’s spot will be filled by rookies Kevin Boss and Mike Matthews, who have combined for 11 catches for 96 yards this season.
Buffalo will have to settle for playing spoiler the final two games after its playoff hopes were dashed with an 8-0 loss at Cleveland last Sunday.
The game was played in a driving snowstorm that made moving the ball almost impossible. The Bills managed 11 first downs and 232 yards of offense, and didn’t threaten to score until a last-minute drive ended when running back Fred Jackson was tackled for no gain on fourth-and-5 at the Browns 10.
“It was just unfortunate our playoffs hopes were squashed yesterday in the conditions we played in,” defensive end Chris Kelsay said Monday. “We knew it was going to be cold. It’s just unfortunate that the field was in as bad shape as it was. The conditions were definitely a big part.”
Buffalo, which had won six of its previous eight games, will miss the playoffs for an eighth straight season, the longest drought in franchise history.
With wins in their final two games, the Bills would match their highest total since they went 11-5 in 1999, the last time they reached the postseason.
“We’d like to get a win there and finish the season on a high note with two more victories,” Kelsay said.
The Bills also have struggled to put points up lately, scoring 17 or fewer in five of the last six games. The lone exception in that span was a 38-17 victory over then-winless Miami on Dec. 9.
The Giants have lost six of their last seven regular-season meetings with the Bills, but this will be their first visit to Buffalo since a 19-17 victory on Dec. 12, 1999.