Will Leitch’s dispatches from recent visits to the Giants locker room have run every day this week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Today: Losing is no longer an option.
Back in December, the Giants lost to the Eagles, at the Meadowlands, 20–14 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. The Giants were dominated on offense and defense en route to their first loss in nearly two months. A week that had been All Plaxico, All the Time ended with the worst performance of the season.
At the time, this was nothing to worry about. In fact, if you were worried about this, you were disrespecting the players, the team, the coaches, and their achievements. You were, as running back Brandon Jacobs put it afterward, a “hater.” As if following orders — and they were assuredly following orders — the Giants skipped around the locker room all week after the loss, laid-back, relaxed, all good. Center Shaun O’Hara, an amiable fellow, made sure to emphasize that “we’re 11–2, and it’s just one game. We won the NFC East. Here, look, I have a hat that says so. Everything’s great here.”
The locker room certainly seemed to be. It’s easy to forget, but a locker room really isn’t all that different from your office. (With the notable difference that your co-workers are presumably wearing clothes and don’t have a desk stocked with vitamin supplements and protective cups.) Everyone bustles around, going about their business, gossiping with co-workers, sifting through memos. (Every locker has a piece of paper with the details of the “2008 GIANTS JINGLE JAM,” a charity event to which players’ attendance is “not required but expected,” which I assume actually means “required.”) Back then, nobody looked sad or angry or artificially “motivated.” They were 11–2, and they wanted to make sure everybody knew it, and everything was fine. Some days you lose, you know?
Now that the Giants are playing the Eagles in the playoffs Sunday afternoon, they’ve changed their tone a bit: They are now furious and lustful to avenge that crushing loss to the Eagles.
Fun quotes from the locker room yesterday:
Defensive tackle Barry Cofield: “We haven’t forgotten that game. It wasn’t very long ago. They came in here and beat us up. So we owe them something.”
Coach Tom Coughlin: “We didn’t rush the ball, we didn’t pass the ball, we didn’t have many snaps. They had the ball, they had time of possession. So it was disappointing from that standpoint. We had a drive at the end of the game that put us a little bit closer, but it didn’t say much about that game.”
It’s really all about psyche. Obviously, a loss in December isn’t nearly as costly as a loss in January. So you need your team to be blasé about a loss in the regular season, and then, when that team comes back around in January, full of vengeful rage. It might not pass the logic test, but when it comes to motivating a professional football team, logic is not your friend.
Not that it really matters: As Newsday pointed out, when the Giants stop Westbrook, they win, and when they don’t, they lose. The Giants have no major injuries this week — Antonio Pierce, who was victimized by Westbrook in the first game, should be ready to go — and everything seems lined up for them. But these are the Eagles, the long-tormenting Eagles, a veteran vexer of the Giants bellying up for one last run.
A month ago, a loss didn’t matter, nobody cared. Now, Brandon Jacobs is running around the locker room screaming to fire up his team on Wednesday. If that doesn’t explain the playoffs, it’d be difficult to find something that does.