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 EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Despite having three starters injured in a game with no playoff implications, Tom Coughlin thinks the New York Giants gained momentum going all out in an attempt to deny the New England Patriots' perfect regular season.
``I don't know that you can move toward the playoffs in a better way than to play against the No. 1 team in the league, a team that is 16-0, and hold your own, at least for the majority of the evening,'' Coughlin said Sunday. ``Those are all positives.''
The question now is whether the Giants (10-6) can build off of it and win a playoff game for the first time in three years. They were knocked out in the first round by Carolina two years ago and were beaten by Philadelphia in another wild-card game last season.
New York will play the Buccaneers (9-7) in Tampa, Fla. in another NFC wild-card game next weekend.
There is no doubt that the Giants played one of their best games of the season in Saturday night's 38-35 loss to New England, which had to put a scare into the Patriots' hopes for a piece of history.
Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes, the Giants built a 12-point second-half lead and were a little unfortunate that cornerback Sam Madison aggravated an abdominal muscle on a play that left Randy Moss wide open to catch a go-ahead 65-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the fourth quarter.
While the loss in a hard-fought game was positive but frustrating, the injuries are a concern.
Madison was feeling better Sunday, but Coughlin was uncertain about his status for the Bucs. The same is true with weakside linebacker Kawika Mitchell and center Shaun O'Hara, who both sprained knees and had MRIs on Sunday.
Coughlin said they were feeling better, but he was still waiting for test results.
Backup safety Craig Dahl tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the first quarter and will miss the rest of the season.
Coughlin was a little sensitive about the injuries, which all happened in the first half. In the week leading up to the game, he had been asked whether he might rest some starters in what was a meaningless game for New York.
No matter what happened, the Giants were going to play the Buccaneers this coming weekend.
Tampa Bay has rested many of its starters the past two weeks, dropping a 31-23 decision to Carolina on Sunday for its second straight loss.
``I would again challenge you on who you are going to pick out as starters who aren't going to play,'' Coughlin said. ``How are you going to do that?''
Grey Ruegamer replaced O'Hara and played well, Coughlin said, as did Gerris Wilkinson filling in for Mitchell.
Coughlin also said that cornerback Kevin Dockery, who has started four games this season, is getting over a hip flexor and may be ready for the playoff game.
Giants players had no problem with the way Coughlin handled the game.
``It is definitely a good momentum builder going into the playoffs,'' safety Gibril Wilson said. ``We are coming out with positive attitudes with this game. If we play the way we did tonight, I think it can carry us a long way.''
Plaxico Burress, who caught two touchdown passes, said the performance was the one he has been looking for all season from the offense.
``We went out and we played hard, and physical,'' said Burress who finished the regular season with a career-high 12 TD catches. ``If we can go out and play with that same intensity, we can win a lot more football games.''
At the least, the Giants gained respect around the league.
``Maybe everybody will stop doubting (us) and everybody will stop talking about a bad 10-6 team, but a playoff team,'' linebacker Antonio Pierce said.

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