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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 18:  Tom Coughlin, Head coach of the New York Giants leaves the field after a 23-10 loss to the Washington Redskins during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 18, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Tom Coughlin.

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An Ugly Giants Loss, and an Increasingly Maddening Season

It's hard to believe that the Giants could lose five of their last six games, and yet still control their own playoff destiny, but such is life in the NFC East this season. This Giants team has been demonstrating its inconsistency for more than a month now: They’re capable of playing a strong game against a good team, but equally capable of playing a pitiful game against a weak opponent. If the Giants were simply lousy this year, they wouldn’t be so maddening to follow. But the flashes of competence — often in the fourth quarter, and often the result of Eli Manning’s play — mean this team demands your attention, if only to let you down the week after.

And yesterday’s 23-10 loss to Washington might have been the most frustrating defeat of them all. It’s disappointing that the Giants could look so flat in such an important game, at such a critical time in the season. And make no mistake, this one was ugly: dropped passes, interceptions, blown coverages, an inability to capitalize on Washington mistakes, and we could go on and on. The Giants knew going into this game that Dallas had won the night before, and that they’d need to win to keep pace in the standings. They didn’t yet know that the Eagles would beat the Jets later in the day to remain in the playoff picture themselves. But here we are, after fourteen games, and three teams could still win the NFC East. (Worth noting: The Giants lost both games this year to the one team not currently vying for the division title.)

Some Giants scenarios, with two games remaining:

• If the Giants win their next two games, they win the division and make the playoffs, no matter what happens in next week's Cowboys–Eagles game, and no matter what Philadelphia does in Week 17.

• If the Giants lose to the Jets next week, they can still get in, but they'd need some help. They'd need Philadelphia to beat Dallas next week, then in Week 17, the Giants would need to beat the Cowboys, and Philadelphia would need to lose to Washington. (If Philly wins out, and the Giants lose in Week 16 and then win in Week 17, the Eagles win the division.)

• If the Giants lose next week and Dallas wins, the Giants are eliminated. The Giants, by the way, won't know what the Cowboys have done this time around: Kickoff for Jets–Giants is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, while Dallas and Philly play at 4:15.

And so though you may not know it by watching them play right now, the Giants are still alive. The team we saw yesterday hardly looked like one that deserved to qualify for the playoffs, but if we've learned anything about the Giants this year, it's that these things can change from game to game, and even quarter to quarter. With two games remaining, the Giants better hope they hit rock bottom yesterday. Controlling your own destiny only matters if you can win some games.

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Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images