EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The last time the New York Giants faced the Washington Redskins, coach Tom Coughlin's team was seemingly on the brink of a memorable, if not miserable, season.
Forgotten about that?
It was the third week of the season and New York was off to an 0-2 start and facing the undefeated Redskins in Washington. It was the doomsday scenario, and an embattled Coughlin appeared halfway out the door with New York trailing 17-3 at halftime.
How things have changed, for both teams.
As the teams prepare to meet at Giants Stadium on Sunday night with three weeks left in the regular season, the Giants (9-4) are on the cusp of making the playoffs for the third straight year.
Washington (6-7) seemingly needs to win out to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year in a season marred by the tragic shooting death of Redskins Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor late last month in Miami.
``We are not worried about them clinching the playoffs,'' Redskins halfback Clinton Portis said. ``We are trying to get into the playoffs. So if they get a win and we get a loss, then they kind of screw up our playoff chances. We are more worried about us getting into the playoffs than them.''
The Giants can clinch at least a wild-card berth with a win Sunday or losses by both Minnesota (7-6) and New Orleans (6-7).
A win in any of their final three games will get New York into the postseason. Two wins or the combination of a Giants' win and Minnesota loss will guarantee that they will get the NFC's top wild-card berth, and likely a game against Tampa Bay (8-5) instead of Seattle (9-4).
However, the Giants realize beating the Redskins won't be easy. New York had to rally to post a 24-17 win on Sept. 23 in a game that ended with the Giants staging a goal-line stand in the final minute to avoid overtime.
``They're a good team and they'll give us a run for our money,'' Giants receiver Amani Toomer said. ``Last time, we were down a bunch and came back to beat them. We're not taking them lightly at all.''
The Giants also are wary about the game because it's at home. While the winners of six in a row on the road, New York is 3-3 at home. The team was blown out in its last home two games, being embarrassed by Dallas and Minnesota.
``We're going to come out and prove that we can play well at home,'' halfback Brandon Jacobs said. ``We're going to prove that this is our stadium and we can win here.''
The players know the fans aren't happy.
``It's not very comfortable to hear boos from your fans,'' offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie said. ``Who wants to have the home crowd booing you?''
The September game also marked a turnaround for the Redskins, who were 30 minutes from a 3-0 start.
``It's been a wild year for us,'' said Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who was sidelined with a knee injury in a win over Chicago 10 days ago. ``We started off 2-0, everything was great for us. That setback against the Giants, the last part of that game, it seems like that's when our problems started, whether it's finishing games or people getting hurt.''
The Redskins have three games to turn it around again. They are tied with Detroit, Arizona and New Orleans, and a game behind the Vikings in the race for the second wild-card berth.
Washington holds the tiebreaker over Detroit and Arizona, and has a game at Minnesota a week from Sunday. The Redskins end the season against Dallas in what might be a meaningless game.
``To keep the dreams that we have for the football team going, we have to win on Sunday night,'' coach Joe Gibbs said.
To win, the Redskins will need another good game from quarterback Todd Collins, who'll be making his first start in an NFL-record 10 years and two days. His last start was for the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 14, 1997, in a 20-14 loss to Jacksonville.
Collins came off the bench after Campbell was hurt in a scoreless game and completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It marked the first time in almost 10 years that he had thrown more than seven passes in a game.
``There were some frustrating moments,'' Collins said of being a career backup. ``There is no question, everybody goes through them. There was never a point where I said this isn't worth it anymore, otherwise I wouldn't be standing here today.''
Collins will be facing the league's best pass rush. New York has a league-high 47 sacks. Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan will be lined up against undrafted rookie Stephon Heyer at right tackle.
If the Redskins miss the playoffs, they can blame it on their second-half woes. In five of their seven losses, they have blown a lead.
Still, they have a chance.
``That's the way this NFC is,'' receiver Antwaan Randle El said. ``You don't know how it'll wind up, but we'll take it. Once you get in, you've got a chance to win it all, just as anybody else.''
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