"It started the idea of us finishing and playing well in the fourth quarter," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said yesterday.
Trace the steps that the Giants walk daily, from their practice field through a corridor by the weight room and into the locker room at their training facility, and you'll pass words of motivation imprinted on the walls at every turn. Coughlin is not much for a sound bite, but he's not short on decrees of emphasis. Since training camp commenced in July, Coughlin's drilled his team - to the point of exhaustion - with one word: finish.
Finish plays. Finish games. Finish the season.
"We pound away at that every week," he said.
He said it with a team that's 6-3 and atop the NFC East because of five come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter. That rally started in Philadelphia. Every win since has involved overcoming a late-game deficit.
The difference between the first-place Giants and the last-place Eagles can be seen in a game's waning minutes. The Giants are outscoring opponents, 81-73, in the fourth quarter this season. The Eagles are being outscored, 74-27. Take away the fourth quarter, and the Giants are 4-5. Take away the fourth quarter, and the Eagles are 7-2.
"There's not much that separates a lot of teams in this league," Giants linebacker Michael Boley said. "It's that will, that desire, to get the job done."
The story was reversed last season. Both the Eagles and Giants finished 10-6, but the Eagles won the NFC East because they defeated the Giants in both meetings. And both times, the Giants surrendered fourth-quarter leads.
"We're learning from past mistakes," tackle Kareem McKenzie said. "Plain and simple."
Since training camp, the message has never wavered. Coughlin has used video presentation and lectures to explain the importance of finishing. But the players needed evidence that it would work, and that started in Philadelphia in September. Quarterback Eli Manning did not want to enlarge that game in retrospect, but there was a sentiment in the locker room that by coming back against a division rival who horrified the Giants in the past, the Giants were emboldened with a confidence that has carried over.
"I don't know if we recognized it at the time, but it was a big building block for this team," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "To be able to have faith in us coming from behind to do what it takes to come from behind and do whatever needs to be done to get the win."
Now, the team has an unshakable belief in Manning in the fourth quarter. Kiwanuka remarked there was surprise Sunday when the Giants couldn't complete a comeback against the 49ers. And the players credit training camp, early in the season and even this week, because the message does not waver.
"It's a mentality. It's an attitude," Boley said. "I don't think there's anything physical about finishing games. It's all upstairs and in your heart."
Receiver Michael Clayton said Coughlin does not need to say anything anymore because "it's understood at this point." That hasn't stopped Coughlin, although Manning hoped that the Giants will not require a comeback. Because even if the difference between the Giants and the Eagles has been the fourth quarter, Manning would much prefer the game be out of hand by that point.
"We got to keep that confidence and it comes to that situation, we feel good about what we can do in that situation in the crunch time," Manning said. "But it's also a learning experience where you don't always want to be in that situation, because all the sudden, if something does go wrong or there's a tipped pass, you won't have time to make it up."
Cruz by shooting
Giants receiver Victor Cruz was at a Manhattan nightclub early Tuesday when a shooting occurred at 2:22 a.m. that a killed a 44-year-old man and wounded two other people. Cruz was unharmed and not involved in the shooting.
According to reports, four other Giants also were at the club - defensive tackle Chris Canty, receiver Hakeem Nicks, safety Antrel Rolle and cornerback Aaron Ross. Rolle said he had left the club before the incident, and Nicks and Ross denied being there.
"Only one I heard about initially was Victor," Tom Coughlin said. "Thank God he was safe. I'll speak to him as a parent who speaks to their son. I don't know what happens good at 2:30, 3 in the morning. I've never been able to figure that out. Other than that, it's between he and I."
Coughlin said he would speak to the other players who were at the Juliet Supper Club, a popular club in New York.
Players were not violating any team rules. Tuesday is the mandatory day off in their weekly schedules.
"Not the best way you want to spend your birthday, but things happen," Cruz said. "It's unfortunate. My prayers go out to the families of those victims . . . I'm only going to barbecues and family get-togethers from now on."
Former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg when he carried a gun into a nightclub in 2008, eventually leading to a prison term and the team releasing Burress. Coughlin said Tuesday's incident did not give him flashbacks to 2008.