Follow the Leaders

In these dire times, the Packers and Giants will be leaning on their coaches on Sunday. Green Bay, without its star quarterback, has lost two in a row and is in danger of falling out of the playoff picture at 5-4. New York, thanks to playing in the woeful NFC East, is alive and (relatively) well at 3-6.

NBC pulled the plug on a primetime matchup between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants.

Someone, however, forgot to pull the plug on the Giants.

Like Rasputin, the Giants simply won't die.

They didn't die in 2007, when a loss to the Packers sent them to 0-2.

They didn't die in 2011, when a four-game losing streak — the last of which came at the hands of the Packers — sent them to 6-6.

The Giants overcame the Rasputin equivalent of being poisoned and stabbed to win the Super Bowl those years.

This season, the Giants started 0-6. But they've turned things around a bit and, with the good fortune of playing in the woeful NFL East, they're right in the thick of things at 3-6. Should they beat the Packers on Sunday afternoon, they will have won four games in a row to pull within one game of the division lead.

"I don't know about that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said when asked during a Wednesday conference call if his team was "rising from the dead" again. "We're just trying to do the best that we can do. We had a miserable time getting something done in the first six games, as you know, and we're doing things a little bit better. We've got a long way to go, to be honest with you, to be the team we think we can possibly be. You know, we prepare and we're trying like heck to get these people, both young and old, to work hard, to focus, to keep their dreams alive and that kind of thing. So, it's nice to have won a couple of games but we still have a ways to go."

In 2010, the Packers and Giants played what amounted to an elimination game at Lambeau Field in Week 16. The Packers rolled and won the Super Bowl. It could be the same situation on Sunday in New Jersey. The Packers are 5-4, losers of two straight and going with their third quarterback in as many weeks. They need to get the ship righted before it's too late for Aaron Rodgers to come to the rescue. Even in the NFC Least, a seventh loss could bury the Giants.

"What I've always tried to do is be very, very honest with the players in terms of what are the reasons why we're in the position that we're in and then go ahead and show them or demonstrate for them how that can be corrected, and then the position that I try to take is to motivate, to inspire, to get them back up," Coughlin said.

"They're young, they're human, they feel very badly about a loss or not having done well. The idea of moving forward, moving on, gathering, re-gathering and, of course, being together as one. That's the most important thing of all is staying together as a team and realizing that you put yourself in a hole and you're certainly going to, together, have an opportunity to fight your way out of it. Adversity does make you stronger but you just have to keep working at it and keep pounding away at it because, as I say, the idea is you've got a lot of people in that locker room and you've got a lot of people sitting in front of you in those meetings and those young men who want to do well, want to do everything the right way, have got to be encouraged when things don't go that way."

For obvious reasons, the quarterbacks will be in the spotlight. Green Bay's Scott Tolzien will be making his first NFL start. New York's Eli Manning leads the NFL with 16 interceptions but he's tossed just one during the winning streak.

Ultimately, however, it might come down to the coaches. More than the X's and O's, it will be their messages Monday through Sunday that could determine which team is alive and relatively well by Sunday evening.

With two Super Bowl rings, Coughlin carries the kind of clout that speaks volumes in a locker room.

"Obviously, I think it helps," Manning said during his conference call. "Between a lot of the coaches here, a number of the players, we know we've gone through rough stretches before and we've come out on top. We've gotten out of them and started playing our best football, so we kind of know, ‘OK, let's keep fighting, we can turn this thing around.' So I think that's the mind-set everyone has."

Coughlin's counterpart on Sunday will be Mike McCarthy. He's also the owner of a Super Bowl ring.

"I don't think that's a singular answer. I don't have a four-point outline that gets me through a tough time," McCarthy said. "I think every situation's different. There's always components. We're talking about a football team, you're talking about a lot of people. Nothing's changed as far as the way you show up for work. This is a tough business. We've won a lot of games around here and, frankly, when it goes the way it has the last two weeks, you're humbled, and I think that's good for everybody. But it's a new week. It's a long year. We need to do the proper things that we're going to practice the next two days to win this game in New York. We don't have drastic changes. Accountability's been very high this group, probably the highest it's ever been, in my opinion, of the teams I've coached here. It's a process, and we need to do the basics better. I don't have a bunch of fancy, big-word answers for you."

Coughlin has Manning but McCarthy doesn't have Rodgers. So, it's the "basics" that the Packers will lean on with their season on the brink against a familiar foe.

"Fundamentals, man," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "Fundamentals and passion – playing with passion. We feel like if we do that, we'll be all right. You've got to bring that same energy for four quarters. Not three quarters, not just the first half. We've got to do it the whole game. Get back to our fundamentals and we'll be fine."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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