After starting the season with five straight wins, the New York Giants had a feeling there would be postseason games in their final season at Giants Stadium.
They may well have guessed wrong.
A tailspin has the Giants (8-6) in desperate need of wins and help down the stretch. The only so-called playoff game at the 34-year-old stadium in the Meadowlands sports complex will be New York's crucial contest against the Carolina Panthers (6-8) tomorrow.
The Giants trail Dallas and Green Bay by a game in the wild-card race, and they probably will have to win their last two games and hope either the Cowboys or Packers lose one to get to the postseason. New York owns the tiebreaker with both teams.
The Jets, who also play in Giants Stadium and will be the Giants' partner in the new ballpark that opens next season, actually will play the final game in this building when they host the Cincinnati Bengals a week from tomorrow.
For the Giants, though, this will be their final game in the stadium that opened in 1976, and there is extra motivation for the players.
Defensive end Justin Tuck said winning would be everything for him.
"These fans come out in sunshine, rain, wind, and they are always there rooting us on," Tuck said. "I am excited about being able to play the last game in Giants Stadium, and, hopefully, we can go out there and put on a show and let them know how much we appreciate them and the stadium and all the memories and all the players that have played here before. We want to send Giants Stadium out on a W."
There are tons of memories.
For the bad times, there is always Joe Pisarcik and "The Fumble" in 1978 - to Eagles fans, it will be remembered as the "Miracle at the Meadowlands"; the "snowball" game against the Chargers in 1995; and playoff losses to the Rams ('89 season), Vikings ('97) and Eagles ('08).
The good times saw the Giants draft Lawrence Taylor; advance to Super Bowls in four seasons, and win three championships, the last in February 2008 in the shocking upset of the then-unbeaten New England Patriots.
"I have only been here six years, but I have a lot of fond memories and great wins," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "Obviously for the fans and the ownership, it's a special game for them. You think about how many great teams and great games have been played in Giants Stadium. It will be a special day for us."
The Giants and Panthers come into the game off outstanding performances.
Carolina, which is playing for pride at this point, stunned Minnesota, 26-7, on Sunday night. Matt Moore threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, and the Panthers' defense limited the Vikings to 237 yards, with 63 coming on a pass play with the game decided.
Panthers linebacker Na'il Diggs isn't concerned about either the Giants or this being their last game in the stadium.
"It's more about us," Diggs said. "We've got our own set of accomplishments that we've still got to achieve. No, we're not going to the playoffs. No, we're not where we want to be. But we've still got some work to do in these next couple of weeks in-house. We're not worrying about whose party we're messing up."
Diggs said Sunday's performance gave confidence to a team that also remembers last year's meeting with the Giants. New York posted a 34-28 overtime win to edge the Panthers for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Then both the Giants and Panthers were eliminated in the NFC semifinals, so the home field didn't mean anything.
"I feel that we're a very dangerous team because we're talented but don't have the record to stand behind it," Diggs said. "But we're a talented team, and we can get the job done. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
New York played its finest game in almost two months, manhandling the Redskins in Washington, 45-12, on Monday night. Manning threw for three touchdowns, and the defense intercepted three passes and had five sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
The performance came a week after New York lost control of its playoff destiny in giving up 45 points in a crushing loss to the Eagles.
"All along, everyone was saying the right things and doing the right things," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said of the much-maligned defense. "It just wasn't translating to the field. The question was when was it going to happen, and obviously, it started, and we have to keep it rolling."
Carolina coach John Fox knows about Giants Stadium. He was New York's defensive coordinator in 2000, when the Giants went to the Super Bowl. New York beat the Eagles in the NFC semifinal and then routed the Vikings, 41-0, in the conference title game.
"That whole run was tremendous," Fox said. "That stadium, it is almost indescribable, the energy and the excitement in that stadium. In those two games, I don't know if I have ever been in an outdoor stadium that loud."
For longtime Giants guard Rich Seubert, he'll have memories of the Super Bowl run in 2007. But those aren't his fondest memories.
"We had some good times and bad times," he said. "I think the last couple of years with my son in the stadium watching me play, that's what I am going to remember the most. Walking off the field and him waving at me and my wife sitting there and my family, it's just special."