NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – The Giants were thought by many to be out of the NFC East race before the season even began.
Beset by injuries, New York was in big, big trouble.
But now, heading into the bye week, the banged-up Giants are surprisingly atop their division with much-needed reinforcements seemingly on the horizon.
Defensive captain Justin Tuck, Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee, first-round draft pick Prince Amukamara, backup running back Brandon Jacobs and receiver Ramses Barden all might be ready to return when the Giants (4-2) face the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 30.
Tuck guaranteed Sunday that he would be back after missing three straight games with neck and groin injuries, and Snee also felt he would be ready to go after sitting out Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Amukamara (broken foot), Jacobs (knee) and Barden (ankle) are a little more iffy, but they are close as the Giants prepare to embark on a frightful five-game run that includes games at New England (5-1), at San Francisco (5-1), Philadelphia (2-4), at New Orleans (4-2) and Green Bay (6-0) after the game vs. Miami. That’s a combined 22-8 record.
“I think it will be a nice boost in the arm,” coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. “I don’t know exactly when the individuals will be cleared, but hopefully we’ll be in a position where they are ready to go when we’re talking game week and we get closer to our next opponent.”
While they are in first place, the Giants have a lot of areas that need to be fixed heading into the final 10-game stretch if they are to get back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The running game took a much-needed step forward this past weekend as Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the team’s first back to gain 100 yards this season.
Third-down conversions improved to 45 percent on Sunday, but for the season, Eli Manning and Co. are converting at a dismal 31 percent.
A week after turning the ball over three times in an embarrassing loss to Seattle, the offense was flawless against the NFL’s top takeaway team.
“Do I think it is a finished product,” veteran offensive lineman David Diehl asked Monday. “No. I know that we have the attitude that we are going to continue to work and make sure that it becomes one of the strengths of our offense because it needs to be.”
A bigger concern is the play of the defense, particularly against the run.
Buffalo rushed for 155 yards, with Fred Jackson gaining 121. Most came on an 80-yard run on which he went through the line in a split second and only had aging Deon Grant to beat for a touchdown. It was not a match.
“You can’t take that one run out and I wish we could but in terms of the rest of the game, I think we were pretty sound in terms of responsibility and everybody knowing where they were supposed to be,” said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who has been playing a lot of end in recent weeks with Tuck out.
“That was the only issue coming into the game. It wasn’t that people couldn’t make plays, it was that some responsibilities were mixed up coming in.”
The statistics after six games reflect that. Opponents are averaging 127.7 yards rushing and nearly 374 yards in total offense.
Buffalo also scored on a 60-yard touchdown pass play with Bills receiver Naaman Roosevelt making one move to turn a 10-to-15 yard pass into a scoring play.
The positive for the defense was that cornerback Corey Webster intercepted two passes in the second half. The second ended a potential Bills’ go-ahead scoring threat and started New York on its game-winning drive that Lawrence Tynes capped with his second short field goal.
The defense iced the game four plays later, forcing the Bills to give up the ball on downs.
Diehl called the win huge.
“To do that and be 4-2 at this point, it is definitely a morale booster,” he said, “and we are excited to have that and get guys healthy, get guys fueled back up heading into next week when we play Miami at home again.”
Kiwanuka refused to discuss the schedule after the Dolphins, saying looking ahead only causes problems.
“That’s when you let one slide away that you should have had and you should have won,” he said. “For us, it is a non-issue and for me it is a non-issue because we have had a lot of injuries and we know how to play when people are out. To get people back would be a huge plus for us, but it is not about looking deep into the schedule and trying to map it out. It is about looking into this next game and getting a win.”
NOTES: Coughlin said the Giants only had a couple of minor nicks Sunday with S Kenny Phillips being the most notable with strained ribs. … Coughlin says his special teams have to improve their blocking on field goals after Tynes has his second kick blocked this season. … WR Mario Manningham received kudos for his blocking on Bradshaw’s late 30-yard run that set up the game-winning field goal.
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