ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Late Sunday afternoon, Eli Manning was asked why a 2-2 record is so much better than 1-3.
"You feel like you're back in the mix," Manning said.
That's exactly where the Giants are after a 24-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Right in the middle of an NFC East title chase that promises to be unpredictable for the next three months.
Who would have thought that two weeks ago?
The Giants have come off the mat after their 0-2 start to win two games in a row to get to .500. On Sept. 24, they defeated Washington for their first victory of the season.
"Win a game, get it started," coach Tom Coughlin said. "The process is to work hard during the week, have a great preparation, execute it on the weekend. That never stops. We're 0-2, fight, keep fighting. That's what we do. That's what the thing is all about."
The Giants demonstrated that on Sunday, when their defense played superbly, the offense made several timely plays, and the special teams chipped in for a true team victory.
"We're 2-2 instead of 0-2, so we've got some confidence going," said defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. "We're finally starting to see some benefits from the hard work. The first two weeks we were working hard and we were doing good things, but we weren't able to reap any rewards from it, because we were giving the games away at the end. Now we're getting wins, so it's just helping confidence-wise, mentally. It's showing us the right way to do it and keep improving that way."
Manning threw touchdown passes to Dwayne Harris (21 yards, his first for the Giants), Rueben Randle (11 yards) and Rashad Jennings (51 yards, all of it after Jennings caught the ball). Josh Brown added a 47-yard field goal.
Defensively, seemingly everyone contributed. Devon Kennard had his first career interception, and Prince Amukamara forced and recovered a fumble. Jenkins and Nikita Whitlock, the fullback/defensive tackle, had sacks. The unit held the Bills, who entered the game with a league-best 152.7 rushing yards a game, to only 55 yards on the ground, and 78 total yards in the first half. And the entire cast participated in a critical goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter.
The Bills trailed, 16-3, when Tyrod Taylor's pass to Charles Clay gave Buffalo a first down at the Giants' nine-yard line. A touchdown would have brought the Bills to within six points (assuming a successful extra point) with most of the quarter to play.
On first down, Karlos Williams was brought down by Brandon Meriweather and Jon Beason after a five-yard gain.
"In that moment, momentum was swinging," Beason said. "We're giving up a couple plays, big plays that we shouldn't have, and now we've got our backs to the wall. We could have easily gotten there and folded."
They didn't. Taylor's second-down throw to Robert Woods looked like it might result in a touchdown until rookie safety Landon Collins raced over to tackle the wide receiver at the two.
"You couldn't really tell," Collins said, "but I was in the middle of the field and I just saw Wood and I knew he was going to try and throw it to him on the check down. He just walked on in, so I just chased him down from inside out. It wasn't my responsibility. Just making a play."
Defensive end Kerry Wynn (team-high eight tackles) was next to do that, pushing a scrambling Taylor out of bounds at the one.
"He's really stepped up big time for us," Jenkins said of Wynn. "He just needs to keep it up because he's one of our top defensive linemen right now."
On fourth down, Taylor flipped a short pass to Williams, who was stopped a yard shy of the goal line when he was hit by J.T. Thomas and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
"We knew we were going to get a full flow play," Thomas said. "Beason did a great job of communicating before the play on who had who, and to make sure we had the back locked down and accounting for him. He's a good player. I was fortunate enough to avoid some of the picks in the man coverage and be able to come up with a big stop on fourth down."
"I just knew fourth down, you've got to pin your ears to the wall and just play ball," DRC said. "Coach (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) called the right call to let us go out there and hunt man. When it presents itself, I was just ready with the help of J.T. So it was a good play."
The players and coaches made no attempt to minimize the importance of preventing the Bills from scoring.
"No question about it, that was a tremendous series right there," Coughlin said.
"That was huge for us," Thomas said. "I was happy we were in a situation to be able to stop the offense going in on fourth down, fourth quarter late in the game. For us as a defense to be able to come together and get those guys stopped on the goal line, and definitely for myself, it's truly exciting."
But the Giants still had plenty of work to do. After they punted, the Bills needed just three plays to score, on Taylor's 23-yard pass to Williams.
The Giants responded with their own big play on their next drive. On third-and-three from the 49, Manning threw to his left for Jennings. The running back sidestepped one linebacker, Nigel Bradham, made another, Preston Brown, miss and later sidestepped safety Bacarri Rambo on his way to a 51-yard score and a 24-10 lead. It was the longest reception and first touchdown catch of Jennings' seven-year career.
"They were in cover zero, which is man across the board and it's usually an all-out blitz," Jennings said. "If you get an opportunity to catch the football, make one miss, you got a chance to run.
"That was a critical time in the game. Obviously, it was third and short and we got a good look, and Eli put us in a good play. I was able to come up with the ball and he actually put the ball on my hip exactly where he needed to in order for me to turn back in. So credit to him for those little hitting passes and ways to get first downs. The rest was just trying to make a play."
The Giants have made enough of them in the last two games that their 0-2 start is now a fading memory.
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