The New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons looked like powerhouse teams through five games. Now each team is struggling just to remain above .500.
The Giants, who started 5-0, have lost four straight. The Falcons, who started 4-1, have lost three of four, leaving each team 5-4 for Sunday’s game at Giants Stadium.
The Falcons are four games behind undefeated New Orleans in the NFC South and already must shift their focus to the NFC wild-card race.
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The Giants, only a game behind NFC East-leading Dallas, are still in their division chase.
“It is an important game for us because we have to get back on track,” said Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “Obviously it is a big one for them. We are in similar situations. We know they will come in ready to play. They have lost three of their last four and so they are going to feel they have something to prove, just like us.”
The Giants are coming off their bye week.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin gave his players instructions to use the bye week as a “vacation” in hopes the team can return refreshed and end its losing streak.
“The importance is winning,” Coughlin said. “Obviously at home, this time of year, it is very important for us to win. We want to win at home. We want to win for our fans.
“But we need to win a game, yes.”
The Falcons are expected to be without running back Michael Turner, who sprained his right ankle in last week’s 28-19 loss at Carolina.
Atlanta backup running back Jerious Norwood is trying to return after missing four straight games with a hip injury. Jason Snelling, who had 18 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown last week, could make his first start of the season.
The Falcons avoided key injuries while making the playoffs with an 11-5 record last season. This year they have lost their two top draft picks – starting defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore – and starting cornerback Brian Williams to season-ending injuries.
The Atlanta defense, ranked 25th overall, couldn’t afford the losses.
Snelling insists the Falcons haven’t lost their swagger.
“Oh, definitely. It’s all around here,” Snelling said. “This team has a lot of resolve. We didn’t get where we were last year and this year by letting a little adversity keep us down. The team is still high. We know it’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of games left.”
Turner has three straight games with more than 100 yards rushing. His injury puts more pressure on second-year quarterback Matt Ryan, who is slumping along with the team.
Ryan has thrown 10 interceptions in the last five games and 12 for the season, one more than his 2008 total.
“I think, as a team, what we’ve done the past five or six games is not what we would have wanted and, personally, not what I have wanted,” Ryan said. “But within that there are a lot of things to learn from. You have to learn from your mistakes, bounce back.”
Ryan threw two interceptions in last week’s loss at Carolina.
The Giants are the Falcons‘ fourth opponent coming off a bye week.
“We could sit here and say it’s not fair or it’s not right or whatever,” said Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. “But that’s what the scheduling folks thought was best.”
The Giants are tied for second with Philadelphia in the East after losses by Dallas and the Eagles last week.
“Lucky for us it puts things back in reach with us,” said New York defensive end Justin Tuck. “But we still can’t worry about what other people did. We have to go out there and win games for ourselves.”
Manning said the Giants have remained confident.
“Yeah, we felt that all the way along,” Manning said. “We knew we weren’t in an awful situation. It’s not exactly where we wanted to be, but we knew that there were still a lot of games left, a lot of season and if we went out and handled our business and play well, got hot again and got back to winning some games, we would be very much into the playoff hunt. We need to have that mindset.
“We know that we have to play Philly again, the Cowboys and the Redskins again. Really what it comes down to is we have to focus on Atlanta this week.”
A bizarre series history is on the side of Ryan and the Falcons. The last win by a home team in this series was 30 years ago.
Since the Giants beat the Falcons in New York in 1979, visiting teams are 12-0 in the series. It is the longest streak of wins for visitors for any series in NFL history. The Falcons have won five straight at Giants Stadium, including their most recent win in 2004.