The Giants are in the only place you want to be in Week 17 of a football season. They have the gift of crystal-clear clarity. They don’t have to look around the league, the way the Jets and a half-dozen other teams do, and figure out what help they need elsewhere; relying on the kindness of strangers is a terrible place to be this deep in the season.
And there is the other end of the spectrum too: The Giants don’t have to concern themselves with how much their starters should play, how badly they need the game, the risk-reward of winning a regular-season game. It’s easy. Easiest formula possible.
Win the game.
That’s all. That’s it. Beat the Colts on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, get a ticket punched for the playoffs, play a what-the-hell game the following week in which there will likely be no stakes on the table for either them or for the Eagles.
Beat the Colts, and let the cards fall where they may.
“I think we just try to control our own destiny each week by trying to win a game,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “The goal is always to try to go 1-0, and that’ll be no different this week.”
Give Daboll this: The same kind of discipline and self-awareness he demands of his players? He expects that from himself, too. No fewer than four different times Monday afternoon, as he met reporters for the first time since his team’s heartbreaking 27-24 loss to the Vikings on Christmas Eve, he was eased by interrogators toward a path of discussing the playoffs.
He took the Fifth on all of it.
“I think everybody knows what you just said,” Daboll said, and what had been asked was if his message to the team was at all different this week because a victory stamps them good to go for the postseason. He wasn’t biting. He wasn’t even nibbling. “Making sure we’re prepared, ready to go and go out there and put our best foot forward.”
The Giants and Colts aren’t exactly ancient rivals, and in the 72 years since their first encounter — Giants 55, Colts 20 at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium — they’ve faced each other only 19 times, the Colts winning 12. The most famous, of course, was one day less than 64 years ago, Dec. 28, 1958, when Alan Ameche’s touchdown won the first NFL overtime game ever played, delivering the NFL championship to Baltimore.
And it has been a few days longer than 20 years ago since the Giants most recently beat the Colts (only the Chargers, whom the Giants haven’t beaten since 1998, have a longer run); the Colts have won four straight (including two Manning Bowls) since.
That final three weeks of the 2002 season are a bit more relevant than you’d think. The Giants were 8-6 and needing to win their final two regular-season games of the year — at Indianapolis, and home to Philadelphia — the same two teams they close the season against this year — and beat the Colts at RCA Dome 44-27 thanks to a career day from Amani Toomer, who caught 10 balls for 204 yards and touchdowns of 82, 21 and 27 yards from Kerry Collins.
They clinched a week later when they outlasted the Eagles in overtime at Giants Stadium.
(And for their troubles the Giants drew the 49ers in the first round of the playoffs, which is the likely scenario for them this time around, as well. If you’re a Giants fan, you’ll be happy to know we won’t be talking about that game in this column at all)
The Giants ought to be a significant favorite over the Colts, who will be without Jonathan Taylor and will likely be quarterbacked by Nick Foles (who made his season debut Monday night against the Chargers). There ought to be a playoff-worthy atmosphere at MetLife Stadium, the one consolation prize to not clinching a spot in the tournament in Minneapolis.
And Daboll, as we have seen, will neither encourage nor permit his players’ imaginations to get too carried away.
“We’re not in it yet,” he said, effortlessly flicking aside one last gnat of a question. “I’m not going to look too far down the road, and we’re going to try to beat the Colts.”
Simple answer. Simple equation. Simple truth. Simple task. Beat the Colts, and nothing else matters.