EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The New York Giants are back in the playoff hunt because they haven't forgotten their 0-2 start.
``We do have a sign that says: 'Prepare, practice and play as if you lost your last game,''' coach Tom Coughlin said Tuesday. ``I think that mentality kind of says it all. You can never be satisfied.''
Since opening the season with embarrassing losses to Dallas and Green Bay, the Giants have reeled off four straight wins, the latest a 31-10 decision over the hapless Atlanta Falcons (1-5) on Monday night.
The win has the Giants a game behind Dallas (5-1) in the NFC East and also has them in position to head into the halfway point in the season with a 6-2 record. New York will play San Francisco (2-3) at home on Sunday, and then will travel to London to face the struggling Miami Dolphins (0-6) before getting a bye.
``Honestly, I think the reason we're playing so good is because we've still got that 0-2 mentality,'' middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said after the game. ``We went into this game thinking we were the 1-4 team.''
Coughlin isn't getting caught up in the excitement. Memories of 2006 prevent that. The Giants went 6-2 in the first half and stumbled home 2-6, winning a tiebreaker to get the final postseason spot.
Coughlin, whose job was seemingly on the line after the slow start this season, feels this is a different team and the circumstances have changed. There are no lingering questions about halfback Tiki Barber's future this year and this has been a relatively injury-free team.
``I just think that the players have been very supportive of each other,'' Coughlin said. ``There is a very good sense of responsibility, leadership is doing a good job. There is a solid feeling in the locker room that if we stick together and everybody does their job, we can win. Those are the things that are prevailing.''
The win over the Falcons might have been the Giants' best game of the season.
The offense had its biggest output since January 2002, gaining 491 yards while holding the ball for almost 40 minutes. Despite throwing two bad interceptions, Eli Manning passed for 303 yards and two touchdowns, hitting 12 straight passes in the game.
The running game also was impressive with the trio of Reuben Droughns, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward combining for 188 yards.
After giving up 10 points on the first two series, including a 67-yard touchdown run by Jerious Norwood, the defense shut down the Falcons over the final three quarters.
The biggest series for the defense came early in the second quarter when John Abraham forced Manning to fumble while attempting to pass and Atlanta recovered at the Giants 28. The Falcons failed to get a first down and Morten Andersen was short with a 48-yard field-goal attempt.
Atlanta failed to get a point off three Giants' turnovers.
``Those were exceptional defensive plays that state strongly to everyone on our team that we do have the ability to bail ourselves out when we do make mistakes,'' Coughlin said.
The defense allowed 97 points in the first 10 quarters of the season. In the past 14 quarters, the unit has allowed 20 points.
New York apparently did not have any significant injuries on Monday, although Coughlin was concerned that rookie cornerback Aaron Ross was sidelined for the second time with cramps. The first-round draft pick came up with his third interception in two games before becoming dehydrated.

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