EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The way the New York Giants finished the season, there is a sense of excitement heading into the playoffs and a feeling that this could be 2007 all over again.
The Giants made a late season run to make the playoffs four years ago, pushed the undefeated New England Patriots in their regular season finale and went into the postseason believing they were capable of beating anyone.
They beat everyone, including the Patriots to win their third Super Bowl title.
New York (9-7) captured the NFC East by beating the Jets and Dallas Cowboys in the final two games of the regular season. Couple that with last-second losses to NFC top-seeded Green Bay and No. 2 seed San Francisco during the season, and that confidence was back Monday as the Giants started preparations for a wild-card game against the Atlanta Falcons (10-6) here on Sunday.
“We have a lot of similarities and we can do a lot of things we did in ’07,” defensive captain Justin Tuck said Monday after the Giants reviewed their 31-14 win over the Cowboys and heard Tom Coughlin discuss being back in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. “Hopefully, we can get on that run.”
What has to be encouraging for the Giants is the way that the defense has stepped up.
After watching Eli Manning and the offense carry the team most of the season, the defense has contributed big time, especially the defensive line which has helped record 11 sacks and limited the opponents rushing game the past two games.
“The season was up and down and this isn’t the way we wanted to go in, but in terms of how we finished the season, we needed to get those wins and got them,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. “We have to draw from that. Right now everyone’s confidence is high and we’re ready to go.”
The Falcons have the weapons to test the defense with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Still, the Giants like the idea of playing a dome team in the cold at MetLife Stadium.
“Atlanta is a great team,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “They are a hard-working team and they are a fighting team. The coaches do a great job as far as their play-calling goes. They do a good job of playing together as a team. We are definitely going to have our hands full but nothing that we’re not up to.”
Giants Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee tried to downplay the similarities to 2007, noting that many of the players have come and gone.
“I’d love to have the same ending as the ’07 team,” he said. “We certainly have the capability of doing that as we have shown. I’m happy just to be in the playoffs. We’ll take it from there. I don’t spend too much time reminiscing about that glorious time in our life.”
Running back Brandon Jacobs didn’t mind though.
“I would not want to face the New York Giants in the playoffs right now,” he said. “I got the same feeling (that I had in 2007). There’s a lot of guys that are here that weren’t here a couple of years ago when we went (to the Super Bowl in 2007), but it’s the same kind of feeling that I have. It’s basically the same road as well.”
The Giants are entering the playoffs fairly healthy. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora returned to the lineup for the first time since spraining an ankle in late November and recorded two sacks.
Tight end Jake Ballard, who missed the last two games with a knee injury, plans to run on Tuesday, and Tuck is playing his best football this season after overcoming neck, groin and toe injuries during the season.
Manning also is having a career year. He threw for a team-record 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Second-year receiver Victor Cruz finished with a franchise-record 1,536 yards receiving and a team-high nine touchdowns, including five of 68 yards or longer.
Cruz believes the Giants have a chance to play for a championship.
“That has to be the goal because you play this game to win the Super Bowl,” he said. “The first step is obviously winning the division and the second step is getting into the playoffs and we have done that so far.
“I feel like we are hitting our stride at the perfect time and we should be able to make a run for it.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.