The Giants' convincing victory over the San Francisco 49ers had many observers in the football media and public and even some players speculating on the long-term ramifications of the rout in Candlestick Park.
Justin Tuck was not among them.
"We're 4-2. That's the only statement we made," Tuck said at his postgame news conference. "If you remember, we came in here last year and lost and they were the team that won and we ended up being the team that won a Super Bowl. So the only thing that this says to us is we can play with the best teams in the NFC. And they are one of those teams and we expect them to be right there at the end of the year and that's all that matters right now. We've just got to continue to get better."
A day later, Tuck's declaration had pretty much become the Giants' party line. Yes, the victory was impressive and gratifying. Yes, the Giants demonstrated yet again that they could go on the road and dominate an outstanding team. And yes, they are alone in first place in the NFC East.
But the road ahead is long and hard. Ten games remain to be played, including division contests the next two weeks against Washington and Dallas. The 26-3 dismantling of the 49ers proved anew that the Giants are one of the NFL's finest teams, but champions aren't crowned in mid-October.
"I think the fact that we played well against a very good football team is a plus," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's very early in the season, but it's time for us to build on that and we have some critical games right flat in front of us."
"I'm sure after Week Six last year, we weren't the best team in football, but we won the Super Bowl and at the end of the day, that's all that matters," Tuck said. "So I'm not worried about where we are right now. I'm worried about where we are come January, February, and this is a huge building block for us. That's a great football team out there. We came in their house and went toe to toe with them and won a football game here. It's something we can build on, but it's a long season. We've got to continue to do this."
If the defense continues to play as well as it did Sunday, the Giants will be a tough matchup for anybody. The 49ers, who had won their previous two games by a combined 79-3 and rolled up a franchise-record 621 yards last week against Buffalo, were throttled by the Giants. They rushed for only 80 yards (after entering the game with a league-leading average of 195.8 yards on the ground), saw quarterback Alex Smith get sacked six times and never advanced beyond the Giants' 24-yard line. The 49ers did not score in the game's final 47 minutes.
After watching the Giants surrender 27 points the previous week to Cleveland and total just eight sacks in the first five games, the logical question is, what took so long?
"I don't think it's any waiting or deciding or anything like that," Coughlin said. "It's just that we've been trying hard, but nothing has been happening. I think that we had a great week of practice and we focused on playing better, knowing full well we would have to. The number one thing going in against San Francisco is you have to stop the run. It was a very detailed preparation week in terms of stopping the run, period. We felt like if we could do that, perhaps we could have a chance to rush the passer, that's all. I don't think there's anything more than that.
"We played outstanding defense, let's face it. We played a team that had been on fire and we played very well, very sound, didn't give up a lot of big plays, gave some up, but hung in there and battled and scrapped and got three critical turnovers."
"I would have to say that was our best defensive performance," linebacker Michael Boley said. "Can we get better? Yes. There's still some room for improvement, but that was definitely our best performance this year, so far."
Offensively, the Giants took a 10-3 halftime lead thanks largely to Eli Manning's passing and the work of his receivers. Two Antrel Rolle interceptions set up field goals and helped them score 13 unanswered points in the third quarter. In the second half, the Giants played keep-away by rushing for 126 of their 149 yards on the ground.
"The last part of the game we were able to run the ball and run the clock up and gain advantage in time of possession and were able to come away with a win," Coughlin said.
So did the Giants make a statement with a convincing road victory over the team they defeated in last year's conference championship game? Or are statements better made over the course of a full season instead of a three-hour time frame?
"I think we definitely made a statement as far as we are a physical team," Boley said. "A lot of people doubted us as far as what we're going to do against San Fran. They just came off of a 600-yard performance running the ball and passing the ball and so there were a lot of doubts as far as we've been up and down this year as a team. So there were a lot of doubts as far as were we going to be able to stop the run or if we were going to be able to run the ball? So I think we made a statement that this is a physical team and that we're going to stop the run and we're going to run the ball and we did that yesterday."
"I feel like we knew we had to play our 'A' game against a very good San Fran team and that's what we did yesterday," wide receiver Domenik Hixon said. "We came in and played Giants football and kind of got the win."
Statement or no statement, that's really all that matters.
*Coughlin said defensive tackle Chris Canty, who is on the physically unable to perform list, will begin practicing this week. When he does, that will commence a 21-day practice period before a decision has to be made whether to activate, terminate, or keep him on the reserve/PUP list.
Tight end Travis Beckum, also on the PUP list, is not yet ready to practice.
*Coughlin said he would wait until later in the week to update the status of safety Kenny Phillips, who has missed two-plus games with a knee injury.
"We're going to have to wait and see on that," Coughlin said. "He's going to get some more opportunities to practice; I don't know just how far we can go with him. We're going to have to, again, assess where he is, and that determination probably comes Tuesday afternoon."