EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The bye week went better than expected for the New York Giants.
Philadelphia and Washington lost and the Giants (5-5) returned to work Monday with a one-game lead in the NFC East with six games left in the regular season.
New York's first playoff berth in four seasons is within its grasp despite a season of ups and downs.
"You look at it as we are being given a lot of opportunities this year," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "We have to start taking advantage and start doing more on our part. At this point in the year to be 5-5 and be at the top of your division, it's not what usually happens."
The last time a team won the NFC East with less than 10 wins was in 2011, when the Giants did it with a 9-7 record. It was also the last time they made the playoffs, and won the Super Bowl.
This team is a little more explosive on offense with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. supplying the big-play ability. It's also one searching to find itself on defense. It might have had its best game of the season a week ago in dropping a 27-26 decision to the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on a last-second field goal.
It was a game that proved to many players they could compete with the best in the league.
Next on the schedule is Washington (4-6), which will be facing a must-win game because it has already lost to New York this season. The Redskins are coming off a 44-16 loss to Carolina (10-0).
"We're in the driver's seat," said starting cornerback Prince Amukamara, who will be returning to action after missing five games with a pectoral injury. "If we win out, then we'll be happy at the end. We definitely don't want to be in a position where we are paying attention to Minnesota or other teams to lose and stuff like that. That's not a fun way to look at it."
The Giants' schedule down the stretch has several teams that are struggling. The Jets (5-5) have lost four of five. The Dolphins (4-6) and Eagles (4-6) have lost three of four. Carolina is the best team left, followed by Minnesota (7-3), a 30-13 loser to Green Bay on Sunday.
"Well, obviously the division race is the way it was when we left," coach Tom Coughlin said in referencing that the Giants were in first place before the bye and stayed there, only with a lead that was a half-game larger. "We have a divisional foe in the Redskins this week, which is very important. But we've got to take care of our own business."
That was the message Coughlin delivered to his team Monday: The division is there, so let's finish the job.
What might be surprising to some is that most of the players said they didn't bother watching much football the past week. Punter Brad Wing watched some highlights of Sunday's play. Guard John Jerry went hunting and fishing and visited friends. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul relaxed when he could and continued to rehabilitate the right hand he injured in a fireworks accident, hoping to build more strength.
"The feeling here hasn't changed, it's always about what we do," Wing said. "Obviously we are in the lead and control our own destiny. If we just handle our business it doesn't matter what anyone else does."
Jerry said the goal is simply to play better down the stretch. They need to get the running game going and do better in the red zone.
"We feel good, no doubt, but this is the time of year you want to play your best football," Jerry said. "That's what we are aiming for as a team."
If the defense tightens up with Pierre-Paul back, the Giants have a good shot at getting back to the playoffs.
"We know what kind of a team we have here," Pierre-Paul said. "We're just going to keep fighting."
NOTES: Two starting members of the offensive line missed practice Monday. Center Weston Richburg sprained his left ankle against the Patriots. Left guard Justin Pugh is again undergoing concussion protocol. He was hurt against the Buccaneers on Nov. 8, cleared the protocol but missed the New England game because of what the team said was an illness. ... Amukamara is wearing a brace to support his pectoral muscle. ... The lights went out temporarily in the team's indoor practice facility shortly after the workout began.