EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** When they lost their first six games and were seemingly on their way to a long, fruitless season, the Giants insisted they could still be factors in the NFC East and postseason races. Yesterday, they defeated the Oakland Raiders, 24-20, for their third consecutive victory. But now that they've thrust themselves into contention, the Giants seem reluctant to admit it.
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"We're not really worried about a race. The only thing we can control right now is what we do as Giants and go out there and compete each and every Sunday. We'll let everyone else worry about that because there's still a lot of football left to be played. So if you're worrying about the race this week, this week, this week, you're going to find yourself falling behind and that's not something that we're looking forward to doing in this locker room. We're just taking it one game at a time."
"I wouldn't say necessarily that we're back in it, but we're taking steps," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "We've got some positives here, we're building, we've had some wins and we're able to build off of them and have a little more momentum going for ourselves right now. There's still a long way to go to the point where we would be right back or to be able to say, 'Okay, we're tied for the lead,' or anything like that. So we can't get too anxious now because we're closer. We still have to just take it one week at a time."
With seven weeks remaining in the season, the NFC East race looks wide open. Dallas and Philadelphia are tied atop the division at 5-5. The Cowboys have a bye this week and the Eagles next week. The Giants and Washington are each 3-6 and have yet to play each other.
But head coach Tom Coughlin wants the players neither thinking nor talking about the big picture. His focus is only on the next game.
"It's one game at a time," Coughlin said. "Where are you, you're right where you are. Obviously you keep your dreams alive, but you focus on the task at hand. I hope that's what we're doing. Plus there's a gag rule, not to talk."
That last line was a joke, but the point was made: retain a narrow vision.
The Giants return to action Sunday at home against the Green Bay Packers, whose quarterback, Scott Tolzien, will make his first NFL start. They will then host a Cowboys team that last night gave up 625 yards and an NFL-record 40 first downs in a loss in New Orleans. Dallas beat the Giants on opening night in AT&T Stadium.
The Giants are looking at each opponent as if it's a potential Super Bowl champion.
"We're 3-6, we're in no way, shape or form going to underestimate anyone," Rolle said. "We know exactly who we have ahead of us. I think they (the Packers) have something that they haven't had there in a long time, which is a run game, and we're looking forward to playing those guys.
"We understand what we're trying to accomplish here as a team and we keep it on a one-game basis. We don't take any opponent lightly, this is the NFL and anything can happen on any given Sunday."
QUICK HITS >>
- The Giants' defense has not allowed any of its last three opponents to gain 215 yards and has allowed just one touchdown in 14 quarters – and that after the Raiders took possession at the five-yard line after Jerrel Jernigan fumbled the opening kickoff.
"I think we are building in our confidence," Coughlin said. "I think that's a good thing. We've got some good physical play going on. The pass rush, I think that got better yesterday. We got four sacks yesterday. We continue to have a nice interception, which was run back into point blank range, and we did have a sack-forced fumble. We're trying to get where we want to go. We're trying to get better."
"I think the pieces are starting to fall together," Rolle said. "Jon Beason (acquired from Carolina in a trade on Oct. 4) has helped us out tremendously playing at that linebacker position and being the voice of the defense. I think the coaches and the players being on the same page, that's been a more aggressive defense. I think it's all coming together. When it all comes together, that's when things become miraculous, and I think we're headed in that direction right now."
- Coughlin opened his news conference by citing Veterans Day and the sideline and locker room presence yesterday of two fervent Giants fans, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, and Col. Greg Gadson, a member of the Giants' family since 2007.
"It was an honor to have General Odierno with us yesterday along with Colonel Gadson as we saluted and celebrated the men and women who serve in our armed forces," Coughlin said. "Today on Veterans Day, it's important for all of us to remember how much we owe to these men and woman, past and present, who have made so many sacrifices so that we can live in freedom and safety. It was great to see the General there yesterday. Nobody can miss him on the sideline. He's as tall as the players, so it was just great seeing him."
- Asked if he will give Jernigan another chance to return kicks, Coughlin said, "We'll see."
- Coughlin used the word "sore" to describe the condition of both running back Andre Brown and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Brown had 30 rushing attempts in his first game of the season after coming off injured reserve. JPP briefly left the game with a sore shoulder.
"He's sore," Coughlin said of Pierre-Paul, "but he was able to make it and he'll need treatment all week long, but I think he will get better as the week goes on." Will JPP miss any games? "I hope not," Coughlin said.
Steve Weatherford did not have a day he will remember fondly, finishing with a 30.3-yard gross average and a 30.5-yard net average on four punts. His first punt traveled 51 yards, but the others went 36, 27 and seven yards, the latter the result of a deflection. It was not considered a block because it passed the line of scrimmage, so Weatherford's streak remains intact – none of his 553 career punts has been blocked.
"I guess when it rains it pours, because the three punts I had previous to that obviously weren't my best efforts considering it was into the wind and everything and then when I do get the wind at my back, I get a seven-yarder," Weatherford said. "Frustrating, but that's kind of been how it's been for me. There have been lots of ups, lots of down. The previous game I had two punts that I really felt helped us win the game and then coming into this week, having lots of confidence going into the game and then - it's just been tough."
Weatherford punted for the Jets in 2010, so he has kicked in MetLife Stadium since it opened. But yesterday stood out for a reason a punter would prefer not to encounter.
"That's definitely the windiest I've ever seen that place," Weatherford said. "And it wasn't like it was a sustained wind, it was really gusty so it could go from 15 to 28. It's not like I had a windometer out there or whatever, but it was difficult to make adjustments, because you didn't know how hard it was blowing or what direction it was blowing. So it was definitely difficult for me, because all of my punts were backed up into the teeth of it. I was just waiting for my chance to turn around and hit one with the wind so I could flip the field but I didn't get that opportunity. But our defense played great."