EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Despite having a one-game lead in the NFC East with four to go, the New York Giants may need to win out to make the playoffs.
A frustrated Tom Coughlin made that assessment Tuesday, knowing that the Giants' 17-16 loss to the Washington Redskins on Monday did more than cut their division lead in half.
The defeat left them at a surprising 2-3 in the NFC East with one division game left -- vs. Philadelphia in the season finale. If the Giants (7-5) finish tied with either Washington (6-6) or Dallas (6-6), the second tiebreaker after head-to-head matchups is division record.
The Giants split games with Dallas and Washington, and have already lost to last-place Philadelphia.
The Cowboys and Redskins each already have three wins in the division and they play each other again. So, one or both stands to have a better division record than New York.
"I am looking at it one game at a time, knowing full well it's a four-game season and we have to win really every one of our games," Coughlin said. "That's how I look at it. I am going to be aware of all the things you are talking about. But that is not going to enter into my thinking.
"It's going to be win the games that are presented, the one that is right in front of you."
The stretch run is not going to be easy, especially with the defending Super Bowl champions having lost three of the last four, including contests against Pittsburgh and Washington where they blew fourth-quarter leads.
New Orleans (5-7) is on tap at MetLife Stadium on Sunday and Saints quarterback Drew Brees has done a number on New York over the past few seasons. After that, the Giants have road games at Atlanta (11-1) and Baltimore (9-3) before returning home to face Philadelphia in what might be embattled Eagles coach Andy Reid's final game.
On Monday, the Giants could have damaged the Redskins' hopes and sent a strong message to their rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Instead, Washington is alive and well in the division hunt after New York committed nine penalties and played an all-around ugly game that still had the coach annoyed 24 hours later.
"It was sloppy, careless play," Coughlin said. "Everyone knows the rules, what you can and can't get away with."
The Giants didn't get away with anything. The day-after laundry list:
n A false start on first down at the Redskins' 23 on the opening drive, which forced New York to settle for a Lawrence Tynes field goal.
n An intentional grounding call against quarterback Eli Manning on first down from the Washington 30 that forced Tynes to attempt a 43-yarder early in the second quarter. He missed.
n Backup offensive lineman Jim Cordle was flagged for two holding calls on second-half kickoff returns, forcing New York to start inside its 10-yard line.
n A holding penalty against tackle Will Beatty late in the fourth quarter nullified a third-down pass to Martellus Bennett that would have given New York a first down just past midfield. The Giants punted and Washington ran out the clock.
n The Giants' only second-half score was a Tynes field goal after New York received a first down at the Washington 17. Two drops and a 1-yard run preceded the kick.
"We felt we orchestrated in the right direction for a great deal of the game, but we did not win the game," Coughlin said. "We didn't get the ball back when we had to get it back. We didn't score when we had the ball in position. The penalties are a natural thing that eat away at your gut. How in the world can a team with something this important be as careless as we were?
"Those are the things that still eat away at me."
The bottom line is the Giants did not take advantage of their opportunities and they didn't do enough in the second half to finish off the Redskins, who have now won three straight games.
"It certainly would have been a great advantage for us to win," Coughlin said.
And there is injury on top of the insult. Tackle Sean Locklear, who had started nine games, suffered a serious knee injury in the second half that will require surgery. David Diehl, who hurt a shoulder against Green Bay the week before, took over after the veteran was carted off.