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Upon Further Review: Big gains on the ground


Giants Coach Ben McAdoo recaps the team's win after viewing the game tape:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was just a half a sentence, spoken in the middle of Ben McAdoo's 18-line opening statement on his conference call today, but it could prove to be important for the Giants as they head into their six-game stretch run.

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"We showed physicality running the football," McAdoo said.

After struggling for much of the season, and falling to the bottom of the NFL's rushing rankings, the Giants' ground game is coming to life. The team ran for 102 yards in its 22-16 victory yesterday against the Chicago Bears. The triumph was the Giants' fifth in a row, and improved their record to 7-3. They will visit the 0-11 Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

The Giants have rushed for 224 yards in their last two games, victories against Cincinnati and Chicago. No, that's not a number that demands special attention – unless you consider that the Giants ran for a total of 171 yards in their previous four games and 259 in their previous five. Now they have exceeded 100 yards in consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 30-Dec. 7, 2014 at Jacksonville and Tennessee.

In addition to the offensive line, a key to the improvement has been the return to form of running back Rashad Jennings. Perhaps it's coincidental, but the eight-year veteran missed three games this season with a thumb injury – and they happen to be the three games the Giants lost, to Washington, Minnesota and Green Bay. In his first five games this season, Jennings ran for 168 yards and averaged 2.6 yards a carry. Against the Bengals and Browns, he rushed for 172 yards and averaged 4.8 yards an attempt.

Jennings had season-high totals of 87 yards vs. Cincinnati and 21 carries yesterday against Chicago. He also caught eight passes for 66 yards in the two games.

"I love to work," Jennings said. "I am built to work. But more importantly, we got a win and however I can contribute, whether it is blocking the blindside, protecting E (Manning) or catching out of the backfield, I am built for that, so we just have to keep focusing and keep on growing as a team and find ways to close the game with the ball in our hands like we want to."

Jennings' resurgence mimics one he had last season, when he rushed for 351 yards in the final three games after totaling 512 yards in the first 13.

"He's running well," Manning said. "I don't know if he looks quicker but he's running well, running hard and seeing the holes and making some nice runs."

It's still premature to declare the Giants have cured all of their running game ills. In their last five possessions yesterday – four in the fourth quarter (not including two late kneeldowns), they rushed for 35 yards, picked up just two first downs, and punted all five times.

Players who stood out in Sunday's win against the Bears

"(The) last five drives, (we had) zero points to show," McAdoo said. "It seemed like we were pressing at times and there were too many technique errors."
"We stalled out a couple times and went three and out when it was crucial," Jennings said, "but our defense was able to adjust and bail us out."

Indeed, the defense kept the Bears off the scoreboard in the second half. The Giants can't count on that happening every week, another reason they need a strong rushing attack in the final six weeks. They won yesterday in cold and windy conditions. It's very possible the weather will be similar or worse in all of their remaining games – at Cleveland and Pittsburgh (in the late afternoon), home against Dallas and Detroit (the first of those a night game), and at Philadelphia and Washington (the Eagles game will be played on a Thursday night).

Manning has proven he can complete passes in any conditions. But in the inclement late-season weather in the northeast, it always helps to have a strong running game. The last two games have demonstrated the Giants might be developing one.

• McAdoo said it's "too early to tell" if guard Justin Pugh will play this week. Pugh has missed the last two games with a knee injury.

"He was moving around a little bit at the end of last week and we will see how he looks on Wednesday," McAdoo said.

• Rookie wide receiver Roger Lewis, Jr., who left the game yesterday, is in the NFL's concussion protocol.

• Guard Brett Jones (knee), who missed the game, and Marshall Newhouse, who played most of it but left briefly with a knee issue, will also be evaluated later in the week.

• Robbie Gould missed two extra points yesterday against his former team. After the game, he said the wind made it difficult to predict where a kick would go, but did not use it as an excuse. "I just missed two today, and I have to go back and evaluate it," he said.

"We need to make those," McAdoo said. "You talked to Robbie yesterday. I think he hit the nail on the head, and we are all on the same page there."

• Safety Landon Collins has five interceptions in the last four games. McAdoo was asked if Collins is playing at "an all-pro level."

"I think he's playing at a high level," McAdoo said. "I don't get a chance to watch everybody in the league, so I don't have an opinion on whether he's playing at an all-pro level. But I know he's playing at a high level for us. He's still learning, he's still growing, he's still a young player and he's preparing well and he's very productive."

• McAdoo said tight end Larry Donnell was inactive for the first time this season because the Giants wanted to have an extra offensive lineman (Sean McDermott) in uniform.

"We were short on linemen and we wanted to make sure we had enough guys to finish the game," McAdoo said. "It's easier to move a lineman to tight end than it is from tight end to lineman."

• Twelve years ago today, Manning made his first NFL start. He completed 17 of 37 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown (to Jeremy Shockey) and two interceptions in a 14-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Giants Stadium.

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