EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** To the players and coaches, the Giants' 0-2 starts seems like a lifetime ago.
Consecutive victories over Washington and Buffalo (by a 24-10 count yesterday), combined with several other results, have left the Giants in an early three-way tie for first place in the NFC East with Dallas and Washington. Yes, three-quarters of the season remains to be played, but their current position is preferable to the alternative.
As coach Tom Coughlin said after the game, the Giants are now "relevant."
"It's always good to be (relevant)," Coughlin said on a conference call today. "At this point in time in a season, looking at our start and to know that you're in the mix, you're in the hunt. I chose that word to make them understand it's a word that puts you in position, but you're not there. You've got a long way to go and that's the significance of that term."
Coughlin wasn't the only Giants representative throwing out the "R" word.
"I said last night that the win made us relevant again," center Weston Richburg said. "We never took ourselves out of the race. It's just a testament to how hard we work and we just kept going last night. It was cool to see. It was a great win for us and now we've just got to keep confident."
Who saw that coming after the first two games? The Giants didn't just lose their first two games to Dallas and Atlanta, they fell in unprecedented fashion by becoming the first team in NFL history to start 0-2 after blowing double-digit fourth-quarter leads in each game. But Coughlin was confident he had a good team, and knew the players could prove it if they just finished games properly.
"That was the big challenge after the first two games where we had leads going into the fourth quarter and lost them and weren't able to come back," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We weren't playing as well in the fourth quarter. He challenged us to, 'Hey, we've got to elevate our level of play in the fourth quarter.' I think we've done that these past two weeks and there's the difference in winning games and losing games. We had a good first half, we had a little lull there in the third quarter, but hey, we found ways to make it happen. We needed some plays in the fourth quarter late in the game and we were able to get to them."
In Buffalo, those plays included an inspiring goal-line stand by the defense and a short Manning pass that Rashad Jennings turned into a 51-yard touchdown with some nifty running that included sidestepping three potential tacklers.
Several players noted the enthusiasm was higher in the last two games, though Coughlin deflected the credit for that.
"Whether the energy level came up from whatever level it currently is, I don't know about that," Coughlin said. "But I do know that it puts a fire in our belly, without a doubt, to be 0-2 and I didn't think we were an 0-2 team. We needed to do something about it. So we tried to inspire our guys to believe in themselves and come together as a team, to play the four quarters. Forget about the score and play each play as hard as you possibly can and don't let any of the circumstances get into your head. And the coaches all did a great job of, again, continuing to express the feelings that I had and keeping the energy level very high and coaching the heck out of them and being excited about it. Trying to surround ourselves with guys that are excited to compete and believe that we can win. All of those things went into it, without a doubt."
The players, are quick to credit Coughlin's leadership in the early turnaround.
"I think he's made a name for himself by being able to motivate people, and he definitely did that for us," Richburg said. "It's good to have a leader like that and I think it's going to be a big part of the success of the team this year."
"I think the thing that I love about coach Coughlin is that he's consistent," said middle linebacker and defensive captain Jon Beason. "He's going to preach the same thing, no matter what. We have a process, we have goals in mind, and he knows how to get us there. When he's consistent, we're reminded of the fact that we can trust in him and the direction that we're going. You start off 0-2, plenty of good, not quite enough to get the W, but a lot to learn from. Knowing that, 'Hey, look at all of the great things we did do. Let's build on that and don't forget about those things. The small things that are costing us games, let's focus on those things and be more complete, and hopefully we can win more football games.'
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"I would say he's come in with more energy, more enthusiasm, and a guy who's 69 years old. He comes in, he's doing jumping jacks in the meetings, it's always a joy to see how much he loves to do what he does, and how much of a competitor he is. It's easy to get up and go out and fight for a guy like that."
Coughlin frequently updates the players on the status of the division race. But this week, their emphasis is on getting a third consecutive victory at home Sunday night against the 1-3 San Francisco 49ers.
"It's wide open," Beason said of the NFC East. "It's still too early to say anybody is the favorite, which is a good thing. You start off 0-2, it's tough to stay in the race, especially when you lose a divisional game, but we're just excited to win this game and now all the focus is on the 49ers."
- Tight end Daniel Fells will be placed on injured reserve, the team said today. Last week, Fells was being treated for a chronic ankle condition. During the evaluation process, it was discovered he has a staph infection, which requires treatment. Because of that, the Giants will place him on I.R.
"It was very unfortunate with Daniel," Coughlin said. "It went from early in the week being a junkie ankle to a serious situation. I just talked to him a little while ago, he feels upbeat about it. He's just looking forward to getting things under control so he can get out of the hospital. With that being the case, we would have a roster move, but we'll make sure we take our time, do our due diligence on that."
Fells' absence leaves the Giants with three tight ends: three-year veteran Larry Donnell, first-year pro Jerome Cunningham (who has been sidelined with a knee injury) and rookie Will Tye, who debuted yesterday.
Asked about acquiring another veteran tight end, Coughlin said, "Well, it would be nice, but that type of a player may or may not be available. We'll have to see where that exactly stands. Larry has played a significant number of snaps here in the early part of the season and he seems to have grown into that role. We'd like to be supportive in other ways. If we can do with what we have here, fine. If there is something that we can look into that will improve us in other areas, then so be that, too. "
- Coughlin on Manning's first interception of the season, which occurred on a third down from the Buffalo eight-yard line with 3:41 remaining in the game. The Giants were in position to kick a field goal that would have given them an insurmountable 17-point lead.
"You can look at it any way you want to," Coughlin said. "The error goes to me, because I wanted to score. I wanted to be in a position at that point to score a touchdown. And then on fourth down, if we didn't score, we would kick the field goal. But there's different ways to play that. I asked Rueben (Randle, the intended receiver) about it. He said when the contact came from the corner, he was kind of knocked back a little bit and wasn't able to completely finish. And I'm sure if you really bore down on him, he could have maybe run the route just a little bit better. I think Eli had thrown a similar type of pass to him for a touchdown earlier in the game. The ball had been thrown low and in a spot where Rueben was going to get it and nobody else was going to get it. I'm sure Eli would probably say something to that effect as well. Give some credit to the corner. The corner (Stephon Gilmore) played that pretty well."