Hakeem Nicks, left, could not make this catch in a 23-10 loss this month to the Redskins at MetLife Stadium, where the Giants are 3-4. Pass interference was called.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For the Giants, Sunday’s prime-time game against the Dallas Cowboys should be a dream scenario: home-field advantage and needing only a win to make the playoffs. Instead, MetLife Stadium could be a setting where Giants fans may be reaching for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol or a stiff brew.
The Giants (8-7) have a poor record at home (3-4) even when matched against a supposed inferior opponent, leaving behind a series of forehead-slapping performances for their seat-license-paying crowds. This year’s low points included a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 and an unsightly defeat to the Washington Redskins in Week 15. There are no explanations.
“If I had an answer to that, it wouldn’t ever happen,” Coach Tom Coughlin said of his team’s troubling home record. “Our approach is always the same.”
The Giants are 5-3 on the road and have had some notable performances away from home. They rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia in Week 3, toppled the mighty New England Patriots on the road in Week 9 and emerged victorious from a thriller at Cowboys Stadium in Week 14.
Some players said that they do not buy into the notion that the home environment relaxed them to the point of complacency, or that going on the road offered us-against-the-world motivation that comes with playing in front of a hostile crowd.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with home; I think it is just being consistent in general,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I don’t think we have been a consistent team all year-long.”
The Giants’ lack of success at home, and their triumphs on the road, runs counter to the precedent established this season by the nine teams that have already clinched playoff spots. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, all of them have thrived at home.
In the AFC, the four playoff teams — the Patriots, the Texans, the Ravens and the Steelers — have won 86.7 percent of their home games, compared with just 60 percent of their road games. The five N.F.C. playoff teams — the Packers, the 49ers, the Saints, the Lions and the Falcons — have an 83.8 winning percentage at home and a 68.4 winning percentage on the road. New Orleans, Green Bay and Baltimore are all undefeated at home.
Whether playing at Giants Stadium or MetLife Stadium, the Giants’ playoff fortunes in recent years have mirrored their home record. They finished 5-3 at home last year and 4-4 in 2009 and missed the playoffs both seasons. But they went 7-1 in 2008 and won the N.F.C. East.
This season, though, the Giants’ successful record comes with a caveat. They acquired a road win over the Jets last Saturday that might have counted as such in name only: the teams share MetLife Stadium. The Jets still did their best to make the Giants feel uncomfortable by hanging black curtains over a mural near the locker room of the team’s Super Bowl trophies. By doing so, the Jets may have unwittingly done the Giants a favor by making them feel unwelcomed, a context in which they have largely succeeded.
“We let a few slip away early at home and certain times we didn’t come to play,” receiver Victor Cruz said. “We have to come out well and be ready to play. We are fighting for our playoff lives, and this last game is going to determine that.”
The atmosphere for Sunday’s game will be playoff-like. The kickoff was flexed last week to accommodate a prime-time television audience, and the Giants will be distributing white towels at the stadium with the team’s newest rallying cry: “All In.”
The Giants are hoping that the team-first mantra will help rally them to a run in the playoffs. But in order to do that, they will need to overcome perhaps the worst best-case scenario possible for them this season and pick up a big win at home.
A side story to the biggest game of the year for the Dallas Cowboys and Giants is the possibility that second-year wide receiver Dez Bryant could be served with a lawsuit by a New York-based finance company while in the area this weekend.
Endurance Capital Fund alleges Bryant owes the company some $50,000 for a loan he has not repaid. It is the third debt-related lawsuit filed against Bryant since he was drafted by the Cowboys in April of 2010.
The team is aware of the situation, and continues to attempt to help Bryant, Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones told Sirius NFL Radio on Wednesday evening.
"I think most of these incidents revolve around things he did early on, when he first got in the NFL," Jones said. "I think he’s learning from that, but there are still some lingering things that probably, if he had to do over again, he’d do differently.
"We’ve obviously sat down with him on numerous occasions to give any advice we can . . . Hopefully he’ll be able to correct those things so it doesn’t affect what he can accomplish on the field. If you don’t clean those things up, they tend to affect your career. He understands that."
For the second straight day, quarterback Tony Romo practiced with the team and all signs are pointing towards him being ready to play for Sunday night’s crucial game with the Giants.
Romo, who said Wednesday that is right hand remains somewhat swollen but is improving, practiced Thursday with a light bandage wrapped around his right wrist and hand, but had his fingers free and able to throw the ball.
During the early part of practice, Romo appeared to throw the ball with the same velocity and zip as usual, despite the wrap.
Romo began practice wearing a black glove but took it off to start the workout. He also said in a conference call with the New York media that he doesn’t anticipate wearing a glove for the game, but fully expects to play.
As for other injury news …
- Linebacker Sean Lee missed his second straight practice. Lee was held out Wednesday because of an illness. He’s also listed on the injury report with the wrist injury he’s played with for the last two months and Lee also sat out the second half of last week’s game with a strained hamstring.
- Safety Danny McCray, the team’s best special teams player who missed last week’s game with a high-ankle sprain, missed his second straight practice.
- Linebacker DeMarcus Ware (stinger) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (ribs), who both missed practice on Wednesday for precautionary reasons, were back to practice Thursday.
- Defensive tackle Josh Brent hasn’t played since Thanksgiving but was back on the field for a second straight practice. Brent was limited on Wednesday with the sprained knee injury.
Dallas Cowboys legendary Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith discussed the Cowboys’ mental toughness during an ESPN interview. Afterwards, Tony Romo said the team has proven its mental toughness more than once this season.
"We had a big game at San Francisco earlier in the year," Romo said. "It felt like a must-win at that time, and we went out there and laid it on the line, and the team won, and we were trailing late in that game. So there was a lot of mental toughness in that game. I think we went up to Washington in a game that was big for us there and showed a lot of mental toughness there. This football team just has a way of keep coming back and keep grinding. Obviously, it comes down to a game like this. That’s why you play sports. That’s why you play this game, is to be involved in games that can allow you to keep going on and playing. I know it’s fun for us to prepare for a game like this."
The Cowboys have had fourth-quarter leads in five of their seven losses. That includes double-digit, fourth-quarter leads against the Jets, the Lions and the Giants.
Smith points to those close games as reasons for questioning mental toughness.
"Talent-wise, I think they have it," Smith said in an ESPN interview. "Leadership-wise, they have some good leaders on the ball club. Do they have enough? Probably not. Can they go up to New York and be mentally tough in this situation? I think Jason [Garrett] has done a very good job of preparing the guys to be physically and hopefully mentally tough, but I think mental toughness is the thing needed in games like this.
"Mental toughness for four quarters or five quarters, if you have to go that far. But that’s something our Cowboys have not been able to do in close games. And that’s where mental toughness comes into play."
LAST HURRAH: Do or die for some Dallas Cowboys, possibly Spencer, Martellus Bennett, Bradie James and Terence Newman
Sunday’s winner take all match up against the Giants has been billed as a do or die game for Cowboys.
A win puts them in the playoffs. A loss ends their season.
What’s also true is that the game could possibly be the last one in a Cowboys uniform for a number of players.
That includes 20 Cowboys who are in the final year of their contracts, including linebacker Bradie James, safety Abe Elam and tight end Martellus Bennett.
The case could be the same for a few others like Terence Newman, who is signed through 2014 but could be salary cap casualty because age, injury and declining production.
Bradie James has seen the writing on the wall since the beginning of the season when his role was diminished because of the emergence of Sean Lee. James ranks eighth in tackles with 51, ending a club record streak of leading the team in tackles the last six years.
The nine-year veteran would like to continue his career with the Cowboys but he knows nothing is guaranteed. He acknowledges that a loss on Sunday could possibly usher in wholesale changes to more than just the players who are no under contract for next season.
"It could all just change around," James said. "That is just the reality of it."
Anthony Spencer, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, is of the same mindset after what has been a disappointing season for him. The Cowboys have not engaged in talks of a contracts with the former 2006 first round pick.
"It could be that," said Spencer was asked if this could be his last game with the Cowboys. "Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. So I’m not worried about it. I’m just trying to get through the season."
Spencer and the Cowboys had huge expectations come into the season that he would thrive under new coordinator Rob Ryan and provide legitimate pass rushing threat opposite Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware. But after getting three sacks in the first thee games, he has just three over the last 12. His six sacks on the season are a huge disappointment for him and certainly weren’t enough to prompt the Cowboys into signing him to a long-term contract extension.
"I started fast," Spencer said. " I had high hopes for more sacks. It didn’t end up that way. (Playing more coverage) had something to do with it. You can’t get sacks when you are not rushing. I want to be here. I like it here. But I got to do what’s best for my family."
Other Cowboys whose contracts expire at the end of the season are cornerback Alan Ball, guard Derrick Dockery, fullback Tony Fiammetta, defensive end Clifton Geathers, guard Montrae Holland, receivers Jesse Holley, Laurent Robinson and Kevin Ogletree, quarterback Jon Kitna, guard Daniel Loper, punter Mat McBriar, running back Sammy Morris, tackle Jeremy Parnell, cornerback Frank Walker and running back Chauncey Washington.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning dropped back to pass 47 times against the Cowboys on Dec. 11. Not only was he not sacked, Manning was barely touched. The Cowboys were credited with only two quarterback hurries in the game. Manning passed for 400 yards in completing 27 passes.
"The offensive line did a great job — the running backs picking up protection — so we were able to extend some plays and scramble around and hit some big plays," Manning said on a conference call with media at Valley Ranch on Wednesday. "We know they obviously are a very talented front seven. …I had a number of throwaways and different things, so avoided some sacks. They definitely cause some issues. We understand that. We’re going to have a great plan to try to slow those guys down a little bit and give us a chance to throw the ball down the field."
Cowboys defenders credit Manning for getting rid of the ball quickly, though they also feel like they missed some opportunities to pressure the Giants quarterback.
"You really can’t make an excuse, but he was getting the ball out really quick," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "He is an elusive guy. You’ve got to give him credit. He did really well avoiding the rush, but we’ve got to change some things up, get some more pressure on him if he’s going to pass that much and get some more pressure on him this game."
Manning led the Giants on drives of 80 and 58 yards as New York overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Cowboys players say the game plan has been "simplified" for this game.
"He was getting rid of the ball fast, very fast," nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. "We did make some mistakes. We know what those things were. Some of them were obvious. We simplified the game plan, so we won’t do that again. We’ll be playing fast and furious and more than anything, we’ll be confident in what we’re doing."
The Cowboys’ 40 sacks ties them with Denver for seventh in the league. Ware is tied for second among individual rushers with 18, only a half sack behind Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen. Ware has led the league in sacks twice — last season when he had 15.5 and in 2008 when he had 20.
Ware can become the first player in league history with two 20-sack seasons. (Sacks became an official statistic in 1982, after Deacon Jones’ career ended. The Hall of Famer unofficially had four 20-sack seasons.)
"It would mean a lot, especially me being a pressure guy, being able to get pressure on the quarterback," Ware said. "If I’m able to get 20 sacks, it’s a big accomplishment. All the guys who came before me, who I looked up to, they haven’t been able to do it. Me coming in and having the opportunity to do it, it really just means a lot."
IRVING, Texas — The Cowboys’ defensive line rotation will get a boost Sunday if second-year nose tackle Josh Brent returns from a four-game absence due to an MCL injury and patella subluxation in his knee.
Brent said he felt good after limited participation in Wednesday’s practice, his first work since Thanksgiving week.
"Feel 100 percent, no limitations," said Brent, who is wearing a protective brace. "I probably went harder in practice today than I normally do."
Brent (6-2, 320) is a powerful complement to Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff, who has been playing with a ribs injury. Second-year lineman Sean Lissemore also has played well in Brent’s absence.
"Josh has had a good year for us in the opportunities he’s gotten," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He’s a bigger guy, he’s a stronger guy holding the point inside. He’s done a good job in that role. But when guys get hurt the next guy’s got to step in there. One of the things Lissemore has been able to do for us is play a lot of different spots on the defensive line."
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo told the New York media on a conference call that his injured right hand is improving, and he expects to play Sunday. Romo bruised his throwing hand on the fourth play of last week’s loss to the Eagles when he hit it on Jason Babin’s helmet. Here is the transcript from his interview with the Giants’ media:
Q: How is your hand feeling?
A: It continues to improve day-by-day. Today was good. I was able to do some things with the ball that we weren’t sure about so it was a good start to the week. We are going to keep working on it and get all the treatment and stuff. We should be good to go for this weekend.
Q: Do you have to continue to get it checked out throughout the week?
A: I think we are going to evaluate it all the time. I think before practice, after and in the morning and at night. We are going to work on it and the trainers have done a great job of being on top of it. The swelling continues to subside a little bit each day and that is a good sign.
Q: Do you expect to play?
A: Yes, I expect to play.
Q: How much has this season answered questions about your toughness?
A: I think when you play quarterback in the National Football League, you have to understand that you are going to have bumps and bruises throughout the way. Every week is important and you just have to go out and play. That is the way you have to approach it. I love competing and playing and that is why you get out there and play every week.
Q: What is harder playing with, a broken rib or bruised hand?
A: I don’t know, I haven’t played with a bruised hand yet but I will assume the rib was a pretty painful thing so that would be tougher.
Q: Do you plan on wearing a glove on Sunday?
A: I don’t know what we are going to do. We are experimenting with a couple things and we will see as the week progresses what we are going to do.
Q: What does the glove help you do?
A: We are working on the compression of the hand and trying to get the swelling to go down. That is the big part of it right now, keeping it compressed. Hopefully it will continue to get better and better.
Q: Have you ever played with a glove on your throwing hand?
A: Yes, I have played with it before but as of now, I am not anticipating playing with the glove this weekend.
Q: Do you have to change how you accept the snap from center because of your hand?
A: I don’t know, we are doing some different things during the week. The game is not until Sunday so we have a lot of time to get it right so you feel better. I expect that we will do all the things like we normally have done by the end of the week.
Q: What do you expect from the Giants secondary this time around?
A: I think when you watch the tape, they are playing really good football. We caught a break one time when they had a miscommunication and sometimes you have to make some of those plays so that could be part of it because they are relying on their instincts a little bit. They are a good group so you have to be ready for them to come out and play their best game. I expect for them to come out and play tight man coverage and come after us. That is what our game plan is, to be ready for that. I think that is what we are trying to do.
Q: They haven’t played man that much the last few weeks so what makes you say that?
A: They do it early in the game to see if they can get away with it and things of that nature. I just think that the fact that we are going to be on the road and they are going to be at home, they are going to want to set a certain type of tempo. I think they are going to bring a little bit extra pressure and play some man coverages. In a game like this, that’s what they want to do.
Q: If Osi plays, what does that do for their defense?
A: I think that Osi is a good player so anytime they get another pass rusher it presents more of a challenge. We have to prepare for that. I think that group upfront is an outstanding group and they have three or four guys that you really have to account for. It is going to be a great challenge for our guys up front and for me to see different things and you just have to know that going into the week. We will be prepared for it.
Q: Do you expect to see the same kind of game as the first one?
A: You never know. You just have to do whatever you can so your team finds a win. You never know what the conditions are going to be. This time in New York, it could be anything. For us it is just a matter of going up there and executing each play and getting into the end zone as many times as you can. It is a big game and it is important. This is why you play the game, these are fun. This is why you get better every year so that you can perform at the highest level when these games come.
Q: What team do you think is going to show up for both teams?
A: I just think you go out and play and each game is different each week. I think these two teams are very comparable team-wise, not only in record but the types of seasons we have had. I suspect that talent wise, we are pretty close so there will be a few plays here or there that will decide this game. We have to be ready to make those plays.
Q: Did you think it was going to come down to this game when you saw the schedule?
A: It seems to have a way of doing that in the NFC East. Each year is different and I always think that it is hard for a team in the NFC East to get the number one seed and go on because in this division we beat each other up a lot of the time. You have four teams that have the ability and when it is all said and done, the records don’t indicate top notch teams but I think a lot of the losses come within the division if you look at these teams. If Washington can beat the Giants twice and we lost to the Eagles, it just shows you the ability each team has each week to go out and win football games. There is a lot of talent, you just have to keep grinding away in order to win the division.