By Ernie Palladino
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The Buccaneers wrapped up a nice Christmas present for the Giants with their 31-24 loss to New Orleans on Saturday, assuring the boys in blue one of the NFC’s two wild-card spots.
Because of that, we can now shift the conversation from playoff possibilities to the importance, or non-importance, of momentum heading into the postseason.
The standing philosophy says it’s always better if a team enters the playoffs on a winning note, especially those last two or three games. Of course, winning always helps the psyche more than losing. But from a pure momentum standpoint, Giants history has proved that winning isn’t everything.
Better to just get hot at the right time. So, for those wringing their hands over the importance of next week’s regular season finale in Washington, relax. The Giants are locked into the No. 5 seed, and a loss to the Redskins would not preclude another magical run to the Super Bowl.
For proof, consider 2007. The Giants went into that postseason as a fifth seed, losers in two of their last three. But, irony of ironies, it was a savagely fought loss to undefeated New England that paved the way to Eli Manning’s first Super Bowl MVP performance.
The confidence level inside the locker room after that 38-35 setback ran far higher than expectations outside the walls of Giants Stadium. The 10-6 record impressed few. To make matters worse, that team won only three home games.
Still, a win at NFC South champ Tampa Bay that year wasn’t considered impossible, given the Bucs’ even more unimpressive 9-7 record. But top-seeded Dallas and second-seeded Green Bay presented different stories. Both finished 13-3 and looked impossible. Plus, nobody had beaten a first seed in the divisional round since the six-team format began in 1990.
Yet, the Giants pulled it off, clinching the 21-17 victory on R.W. McQuarters’ end zone interception of Tony Romo in the closing seconds.
Ice Bowl II and its minus-23-degree wind chill came next. Manning outplayed Brett Favre in the agonizing cold that frostbit Tom Coughlin’s Vaseline-covered face to a blazing red. They needed extra time, but Lawrence Tynes’ 47-yard field goal in overtime punched their ticket to the Super Bowl in Arizona, where the still-undefeated Patriots lay in wait.
The Escape, The Catch and history followed.
So much for momentum.
The Pats themselves won the 2014 Super Bowl after losing to Buffalo in the season-ender behind Tom Brady’s replacement, Jimmy Garoppolo and a cast of reserves. It took a close win over Baltimore to get to their 45-7 AFC championship game win over Indianapolis before a miracle interception against Russell Wilson closed out the Super Bowl XLIX victory over Seattle.
The point here is that end-of-season momentum might be nice to have, but it’s certainly not a prerequisite to postseason success.
Better to worry about whether the Giants’ punchless offense will come around in the nick of time than beating the Redskins.
They’re in the tournament, thanks to the Bucs’ loss.
And that, really, is all that matters.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino