The New York Giants' dismal start and the San Diego Chargers' current downfall have left both teams on the outside of the playoff race in their respective conferences.
New York's surge has given it a glimmer of hope, though, and it'll look to send reeling San Diego to a fifth defeat in six games Sunday on the road.
The Giants (5-7) began the season with six straight losses, but they've rebounded to win five of six to remain two games back of Dallas and Philadelphia in the NFC East with four to play.
Justin Tuck recorded a career-best four of the team's five sacks in last week's 24-17 win over Washington as New York scored 10 unanswered in the fourth quarter.
"Honestly, the mood has been great," said Tuck, who played every defensive snap with Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined by a shoulder injury. "I think guys have played loose and are having fun out on the football field, which I can't say we did do the first couple of weeks of the season.
"I think this team is very close right now and we just have to play into each other. I think that's our tremendous difference."
While the Giants have regrouped from their slow start, the Chargers (5-7) are floundering down the stretch. They've dropped four of five after a 4-3 start, including last week's 17-10 loss to Cincinnati that followed an emotional 41-38 win over Kansas City on Nov. 24.
San Diego set a season low for points and committed three turnovers.
'At critical times we have made too many mistakes,' coach Mike McCoy said. 'Go back to every game, you look at certain situations where we haven't executed. We just haven't gotten it done. It's about being more consistent week in and week out and not just at certain times but the whole game.'
Though the Chargers are only one game behind Baltimore for the AFC's final wild-card spot, they would have to leap four teams while finishing strong to earn it. They still have to face Denver and Kansas City again, too.
"We've got to go out and win games,' McCoy said. 'We have to do a better job. The players, coaches and the organization have to do their job better.'
Philip Rivers mostly has done his part, completing an NFL-high 70 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His passer rating of 104.4 ranks sixth after he finished with marks of 88.7 in 2011 and 88.6 last season.
San Diego's offense ranks fourth at 401.6 yards per game, and it is second converting 46.4 percent of its third downs.
"They're diversified in how they operate," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "All you've got to do is look at that third down number. That's hard to do in this league now and because the nature of their offense, the complicated looks that they see on third down, you have to give them a lot of credit for that."
Rivers was selected fourth overall by New York in the 2004 draft, three spots after the Chargers took Eli Manning with the top pick. The two were traded for each other on draft day after Manning said he didn't want to play in San Diego, and he's gone on to win a pair of Super Bowls with the Giants.
"Philip Rivers has had an outstanding career in San Diego and Eli Manning has had an outstanding career here, so I think you have a win-win situation there," Coughlin said.
Manning didn't start this season very well, though, throwing 15 interceptions with a 64.0 passer rating through the first six games. He has six touchdowns and three picks with an 86.6 rating over the last six after finishing 22 of 28 for 235 yards and a touchdown pass to Brandon Myers last week.
Coughlin has praised Manning for keeping his head up despite the struggles, which have included an offensive line that's allowed him to be sacked 31 times - already the most of his 10-year career.
"He gets back up, shakes it off," Coughlin said. "Nobody wants that, we don't want that, we're not looking for that, believe me, and I mentioned that this morning. He does a great job of handling that."
Rivers got the best of Manning in the last meeting, throwing his third touchdown pass with 21 seconds remaining to give the Chargers a 21-20 road win Nov. 8, 2009.
Manning threw a pair of TD passes in the loss.
The Associated Press News Service
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