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New York Giants' mindset: 'We're right where we need to be'

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are 5-5, completely imperfect, often their own worst enemy, unable to finish, occasionally explosive offensively, leaders by a game in the NFC East and holding tight to the belief that their best football is ahead of them.

Their season has included wild finishes, edge-of-your-seat games and outrageous mood swings.

How crazy has it been?

The Giants lost their first game (at Dallas) and their most recent (to New England), both heartbreakers in the final seconds, by the same score, 27-26.

And they won in the division race during their Week 11 bye when Jameis Winston led Tampa Bay to a win in Philadelphia and Cam Newton led Carolina to a win in Charlotte.

Crazier: The margin of victory for both the Buccaneers and Panthers was 28 points, as Newton and Winston finished with exactly 246 passing yards, five touchdown passes and no interceptions apiece.

For that, this week in particular, the Giants are enormously thankful.

Despite four blown fourth-quarter leads, a (formerly) anemic pass rush, the fact that three of their four highest-salaried players missed the first eight games (and two, Victor Cruz and Will Beatty, won't play at all in 2015), and the inability of their defense to get a stop and their offense to run out the clock when it has mattered most, it's all there for them.

It's all there for the Giants.

They should be thankful for that, too.

At 5-5 in the NFC East, the Giants lead the Redskins (4-6) -- their opponent Sunday -- the Eagles (4-7) and the Cowboys (3-8), who lost Tony Romo, got him back and now just lost him again for the remainder of the season.

For the first time in three seasons, the Giants will play meaningful games in December.

As Tom Coughlin said: "We are relevant. Now we've got to do something about it. Finish. That's the word we keep using. We've got to finish."

Coughlin has used the adjective "relevant" several times this season. He wants his players to believe, to know they are in the hunt, after back-to-back seasons when the Giants were essentially out of contention by Halloween.

In what now qualifies as the good old days, Coughlin embraced "Finish" as a rallying cry in 2011, when the Giants sputtered to 7-7, won their last two games to capture the division and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Is this 2011? No, of course not. And it would be foolish to predict a repeat, considering the Giants have the worst pass defense in the league, a 25th-ranked running game that is often stuck in neutral and that mystifying penchant for coughing up leads -- and games -- in the final moments.

It should be noted that the consequences in East Rutherford of losing out on the playoffs could be dire; co-owner John Mara has made clear that postseason play is a mandate in 2015. The Giants haven't advanced to the playoffs since 2011, when they won that second Lombardi Trophy under Coughlin.

The Giants, however, believe their best is yet to come. They are getting healthier; cornerback Prince Amukamara is expected to return Sunday after missing five games with a partially torn pectoral. And Jason Pierre-Paul, whose return in Week 9 after the July 4 fireworks accident that led to his right index finger being amputated, has instantly lifted the defense and inspired his teammates.

"Our defense is headed in the right direction," Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Our team is, period."

Since returning, Pierre-Paul has mostly worn a glove that resembles an oven mitt on his right hand. It's an adjustment.

"Everything is new to me," he said. "[I am] still learning every day, the [defensive] system, and how to use my hand."

He added: "The good thing about it is that I can still play football."

He is thankful, to say the least.

In the most recent twist in this Giants season, Hakeem Nicks has returned -- he was New York's first-round pick in 2009 and spent five years with the team -- taking Cruz's roster spot. Nicks will wear a Giants uniform Sunday against the Redskins for the first time in precisely 23 months, since Dec. 29, 2013, when he caught two passes for 50 yards in a 20-6 victory over Washington.

Nicks is taking a cram course in Ben McAdoo's offense, but has five years of familiarity with Eli Manning, from whom he has caught more passes (306) for more yards (4,538) than any other receiver.

"Glad to be back in this position again, playing with Eli again," Nicks said. "I look forward to everything that is about to come."

Nicks spent last year with the Colts and was out of football until New York signed him Nov. 17. But he knows how to finish. When the Giants made that Super Bowl run in Jan. 2012, Nicks was their leading receiver in three of four postseason games, including the Super Bowl.

How much does the 27-year-old Nicks have left? Who knows?

But Nicks gave a telling answer when asked what he can give these Giants.

"Confidence level," he said. "It's a new season, we got a six-game schedule. I've seen this before, and we're right where we need to be in this division."

Right where they need to be. It's all there for the Giants. Talk about being thankful.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports

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