LANDOVER, Md. - The Washington Redskins exhausted their supply of must-win games long ago. The New York Giants never expected to have any.
But the Giants are indeed in gotta-have-a-win mode as they visit the Redskins on tonight. The 5-0 start belongs to another era, and now New York (7-6) needs a victory just to stay close to Philadelphia and Dallas in the NFC East.
"You have to win this game," kicker Lawrence Tynes said. "I think there has been much said about 'We have to do this and do that.' We have to go do it and quit talking about it."
A loss would put the Giants two games out of the playoff picture with two games to play, in need of lots of help and at the mercy of tiebreakers. Only a 3-0 finish makes a playoff berth look feasible.
"We've put ourselves in a hole now, and every game and every play is a must-win," rookie cornerback Bruce Johnson said. "I don't want to say we are panicking right now, but there is a sense of urgency to pick it up a little bit."
Those are the words of a kicker and a rookie, but the well-polished veterans know the deal as well - they just express it in more measured tones.
Quarterback Eli Manning said simply, "That is the mindset" when asked about the need to pull off three straight wins. Defensive end Justin Tuck said he thinks the Giants are in must-win territory, but he added it can create too much pressure to say something like that outright.
There's a similar dichotomy in the locker room of the Redskins (4-9). Bring up the role of spoiler, and the young guys embrace it, while the older players and the coach want no part of it.
Rookie linebacker Brian Orakpo: "I'd love to be the Grinch on their Christmas."
Second-year receiver Devin Thomas: "To spoil anybody's season would be a good feeling, especially because we can't make it to the postseason. We can put some dents in their records, and build our confidence rolling into next year."
Team captain and middle linebacker London Fletcher tried his best to dismiss such talk, saying the team should concentrate more on itself and less on the Giants. Coach Jim Zorn made it sound as if the word spoiler wasn't in his vocabulary.
While the Giants likely need to go 3-0 to save their season, Zorn could use a 3-0 finish to have a shot at saving his job. He's embarking on a three-week audition for newly hired general manager Bruce Allen, who may or may not already have plans in place to bring in Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden for next season.
"I'm hoping he'll go back and review things. You've got to see the good, the bad and the ugly as well," Zorn said.