EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants are arguably the hottest team in the NFC playoffs right now, and they can point to a loss five weeks ago that showed them that they could be among the best teams in the NFL. Now, with a 24-2 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the Giants are set-up next weekend to avenge a loss that was a turning point in their season.
It was Week 13 and the Giants were just 58 seconds away from giving the Green Bay Packers their first loss of the season -- but an improbable Aaron Rodgers comeback thwarted their upset attempt in what eventually became a 38-35 loss. In five plays, Rodgers marched his offense emphatically down the field to set-up Mason Crosby for a 31-yard field goal to win the game. It was as disheartening of a loss as could be found in the NFL this season.
"The vibe in that locker room after that game wasn't good because everyone knew in their heart that we should have won that game. Sucks that it came down to a field goal," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "I like where our heads are at right now, I think we have a lot of momentum. We just have to keep the momentum going."
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After that loss, the Giants responded and salvaged a season that was at that point in a bit of a tailspin. Closing out with three wins in their last four games, head coach Tom Coughlin managed to turn the lemons from that Packers loss into lemonade. It has been positives for the Giants since then who finished at 9-7 to capture a somewhat muddled NFC East.
But the Giants are clearly a different team than the one that the Packers played five weeks ago.
Including Sunday's playoff win, the Giants have held their opponents to 14 points or less in their last three games, all wins. With a balanced rushing attack and some solid play by Eli Manning, who threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons, this isn't the despondent team that hung its shoulders after the devastating final minute against Green Bay. They responded and rebounded.
"We played well, we just ran out of time. That's one film we'll definitely go back this week. We'll dissect it; see what works, what didn't. Come back with a new game plan and be ready for Sunday," tight end Bear Pascoe said.
"A loss is a loss but we played well - we took the positives from that game and moved on and had a good finish to our season. We'll discard the bad things and focus on the good and move on from there."
Perhaps the key for the Giants is that not only did they not let Rodgers' theatrics win crush their spirits, they also didn't walk away too inflated from the close loss either. The win over the Giants gave the Packers a 12-0 record and added legitimacy to the talk of them running the table. It would have been easy for the Giants to read too much into the nail-biting loss and feel that they had arrived among the NFL elite.
Instead, it fueled the Giants to get better since they saw how close they were to knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions — and how they needed to improve to get another shot at them again.
"You can go ahead and try to give yourself kudos for hanging with the best team but it's still a loss. You can look at the game, reflect on it and see the situations where you could have won it," right tackle Kareem McKenzie told Yahoo! Sports. "It can fuel us — we know we can put some points on the board and we can play."
And it also is making the Giants believe that they can march into Lambeau and get a result. The hollowed grounds have been a fortress for the Packers this year, where they've gone 8-0 at home. But the suddenly streaking Giants are already placing odds that they will emerge victorious.
"We're going to be alright, we're going to be 80 percent [to win], we're going to be alright," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We're going to win."
Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer
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