A few weeks back, after the Giants defeated the Atlanta Falcons 30-20 to win their third straight game and improve their record to 3-2, I wrote about what a difference a month made in regard to the team’s progress offensively, and even considered the team might be a sleeper for playoff contention.
Well, two weeks like the Giants just had can change things considerably.
Big Blue’s last two losses came at the hands of division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas, respectively, and put the Giants in a difficult spot just seven games into their season. The Giants limp into the bye with a 3-4 record, relatively average until you consider the Eagles and Cowboys have a combined two losses between them.
That doesn’t leave the Giants with much room for error—the two losses leave them 1-2 in the division and down on the tiebreaker against the two teams they are looking up at. And all this develops as Big Blue’s schedule ramps up quite a bit.
Out of the bye week, the Giants will face Indianapolis (5-2) at home on Monday night before traveling to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. The Colts have looked like one of the three or four best teams in football to this point, and beating the Seahawks amongst all that noise in CenturyLink Field is still a tall order, no matter how easy DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys made it look.
Then, the Giants return home to face San Francisco and Dallas a second time. There’s no telling what those teams will look like in weeks 11 and 12, but right now both squads are on a level the Giants can’t seem to match, either offensively or defensively.
All of this isn’t to say the Giants are completely finished from playoff contention—each of those home contests, while difficult, remain winnable. Big Blue still has another matchup against each of its division opponents, all of which are at home, including a Week 17 tilt with Philadelphia.
The odds remain somewhat long, though. The offense still appears to be adjusting to Victor Cruz’s absence due to injury, while the defense has felt the effect of various nicks and bumps here and there, specifically at cornerback, where Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has battled various aches all season long. The offensive line is still very clearly a work in progress after being viciously exposed against the Eagles, and Eli Manning can only operate efficiently within this new offensive system when he is properly protected.
It’s very possible the three-game winning streak the Giants sustained after a troubling 0-2 start was a bit of fool’s gold. After all, the three teams Big Blue beat—Washington, Houston and Atlanta—are a combined 7-14, and the Falcons and Redskins are among the very worst defensive backfields in football. In fact, the Giants haven’t yet beaten a team with a winning record this season.
There have been flashes, here and there, that suggest this Giants team is moving closer and closer toward competing with better teams. The game against Philadelphia was a complete physical no-show from the Giants’ perspective, and thus a wash as far as what it tells us overall about the team. But the Giants’ ability to drive the ball against Dallas, albeit sparingly, showed they are able to fight back against even the hottest of teams. If Larry Donnell hadn’t fumbled twice late, who knows what could’ve happened?
All of this is coming from a fan and observer who didn’t expect much from the Giants coming into this season. If you had told me going into their bye week that the Giants would have won three games, I probably would have signed up for it. This is a team in rebuilding mode, like it or not, and they are going to have some ugly games during that process, even stinkers as bad as that sad Sunday night in Philly.
But that isn’t reason to lose hope. If there is anything I’ve learned about being a Giants fan over the past few years, it is to never count a team coached by Tom Coughlin and quarterbacked by Eli Manning completely out of the equation. The bye week arrives at the right time for a Giants team reeling after two divisional losses and set to face the most brutal portion of its 2014 schedule, a slate of four games that will likely tell us even more about the Giants than we know already.