These are the halcyon days of the 2018 NFL season for the New York Giants.
After losing seven of their first eight games, the Giants have beaten the 49ers and Bucs in a six-day span, and are on their way back to respectability. Eli Manning has rediscovered how to play the game and everything is beautiful for head coach Pat Shurmur.
Well, not exactly. The Giants defeated two of the worst teams in the league, and while the win over the Niners earned them some credit for going cross-country and beating a team that is well-coached, the win over Tampa Bay was hardly an achievement.
The Bucs have a putrid defense and while the numbers that Manning put up were noteworthy – 17 of 18 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions – the Giants were doing little more than playing against air.
The Bucs fell into a deep hole because Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three early interceptions before he was replaced by Jameis Winston.
That turned out to be a good move because Winston played his best game of the season as he cut up the Giants defense by completing 12 of 16 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns.
If Winston had played for 60 minutes, it’s quite likely the Giants would not have won. But he didn’t, the Giants won, and 3-7 is a lot better than 1-7.
This little oasis in the schedule ends this week as the Giants must go to Philadelphia to take on the defending Super Bowl champions. Suddenly, this is a winnable game, as the Eagles are nothing like the team that roared through the 2017 season.
Instead of the sharp team that jumped on nearly every opponent and dictated the pace of every game after they beat the Giants in Week Three on a 61-yard field goal by Jake Elliott at the gun, the Eagles have become stumble bums. They are just one game ahead of the Giants in the NFC East, and it seems quite unlikely that they will find their way back to the playoffs.
The personnel is still strong, but the speed and the rhythm of their offensive attack has gone missing, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has apparently lost his touch with his unit.
The Eagles are coming off a 48-7 defeat to the juggernaut known as the New Orleans Saints, and that’s the worst defeat ever suffered by a defending Super Bowl champion.
The system is just not working for the Eagles. Head coach Doug Pederson was being anointed a year ago, and he was quite comfortable as a front runner, but he has failed to handle adversity to this point in the season.
If the Eagles can’t shake the embarrassment out of their system, the Giants will come into this game with a real opportunity to win. There is no pressure on the Giants, because their season ended a few weeks ago and they were left on the garbage heap with the Raiders and Cardinals.
Now, the skill level has come to the surface as Eli has re-established his playmaking ability, Odell Beckham Jr. has started to produce big plays, Sterling Shepard is handling the No. 2 receiver role and tight end Evan Engram is proving to be a viable playmaker.
Then there’s the star rookie running back Saquon Barkley. The Giants did not miss on this pick, and Barkley came through with a 142-yard, two-TD effort against the Bucs.
He has as much talent and skill as Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas and is perhaps a year or two away from joining Todd Gurley as the best running back in the game.
The weapons are there to cause problems nearly every week, but the only way that can happen is if the offensive line does its job, as it did against the Niners and Bucs.
There’s no reason to get carried away with back-to-back wins, but if the team can continue to improve, a respectable second half of the season is within reach. What could that mean?
There are wins to be had on the schedule. Perhaps not against the resurgent Chicago Bears, a team that proves defense is still a factor in the NFL, or the Indianapolis Colts, who have suddenly figured out how to play.
The Eagles are crumbling under the weight of their own expectations and the first-place Redskins lost their quarterback Alex Smith to a Joe Theismann-like injury. The Titans collapsed Sunday after two impressive games, and the Giants close the season with the hated Cowboys at home.
Winning four of these final six games is possible, and that would earn them a 7-9 record. Not great by any stretch, but certainly a lot better than the 1-7 start.
Shurmur understands that if the Giants can keep their quarterback upright, they have a chance to win games. That is the challenge down the stretch.