EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - In the aftermath of the Giants' 27-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the star of the show was asked an awkward question about the difference between being 2-4 -- as the Giants would have been if they lost -- and 3-3. It wasn't a brilliant question, and Odell Beckham, Jr. said he wasn't sure how to answer.
"I don't know," he said. "You want to win."
That's true. And now that they finally have for the first time since Week 2, the Giants want to do it again. Because, as Beckham said later, that's really the only way to answer all the questions about the Giants, to know if this win was an anomaly or the start of a trend.
"I think we're on the way," he said. "It's only one game. We have to go out next week and do the same thing. That's the only way you're going to be able to tell if you're hitting your stride."
So maybe they'll know more on Sunday morning when they face the Los Angeles Rams in London. But there were some positive signs from their win over the Ravens that show maybe they are hitting their stride. It wasn't all good. It wasn't all pretty. But it's all covered in my 10 takeaways from the Giants' win:
1.) It's hard to say much more about Beckham's performance on an injured hip than I already said in my post-game column. But one thing I did leave out was that Eli Manning explained one reason for Beckham's breakout was that they were getting "looks" from the defense that they hadn't seen in weeks. That may be true, but the Giants can be better at dictating those looks. A great example was the first touchdown when Beckham used his "whirlybird" spin move after faking an inside route. That "lulled the corner to sleep" as Manning said and moved the safety, freeing Beckham to be all alone. I know it's not easy, but Beckham is obviously such a weapon the prime task of the Giants' offense has to be to free him up. He's been the major focus of defeneses since his rookie season and that never stopped the Giants from getting him the ball in position to make a big play. It can't stop them now.
2.) Can we stop the talk of Eli Manning being "in decline" now? He was 32 of 46 for 403 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. One of those came on the last play of the first half as they were desperately trying to get into field goal range, so it did no damage, and the other came when receiver Sterling Shepard fell (and may have been interfered with earlier in his route). Here's the thing about Manning's "decline": It was all based on two bad games on the road where his offensive line wasn't good. Yes, at times he's looked off, but he can still make pinpoint throws and he doesn't appear to have lost any arm strength. So with no signs of a physical decline, it's hard to imagine he's experiencing a mental one at 35 years old. Anyway, except for a slow start, he was mostly brilliant on Sunday. And yeah, so was Beckham, but only one of Beckham's big plays was a short throw where the receiver did the rest. Manning gets some credit for Beckham's day, too.
3.) The pass-protection from the offensive line was definitely better, though the run-blocking left a lot to be desired. One note on the pass-blocking, though: Left tackle Ereck Flowers nearly got Manning killed twice, including on one of his touchdown passes. I know Terrell Suggs is a handful for anyone and it's not exactly fair to grade Flowers' entire game on a couple of plays. But that's the life of a left tackle, especially one who was a Top 10 pick. He's got to be better.
4.) WR Dwayne Harris played two offensive plays. Both were short-yardage runs. Neither worked. He was in there basically as an extra blocker. Now, aside from the fact that the Giants weren't fooling anyone -- as soon as he came in, everyone in the stadium knew it was a run since he hasn't been used in the passing game all year -- Harris is 5-10, 202. The fact that he's the extra blocker in those situations is alarming. It speaks volumes for what the Giants think about the blocking of their tight ends, and it doesn't say anything great about how ready tackle Will Beatty is to get on the field. I mean, Beatty is 6-6, 319 and has six years of NFL experience as a starting tackle. He's really not ready enough to get on the field to block for two basic running plays?
5.) The Giants' lack of a consistent pass rush is still alarming, but overall I thought the defense was much better. Until late, their only touchdown came off a short field following Beckham's fumble. And their goal-line stand was absolutely brilliant. That fourth-down play where they stretched Ravens running back Terrance West out and linebacker Jonathan Casillas shed his blocker to ram West out of bounds was a textbook definition of how to defend that play, especially since little-used linebacker Mark Herzlich was right there, too. The first-down tackle by linebacker Devon Kennard and safety Landon Collins, holding West just short of the end zone was a thing of beauty, too. So was Jonathan Hankins' third-down arm tackle of West trying to leap over the pile. They gave up almost 400 yards and West and quarterback Joe Flacco ended up having good numbers, but I don't think that really tells the story of how effective the defense was.
6.) The pass interference call on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was just … I mean … I've watched it over and over and I don't see anything. Fox's Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating czar, theorized on Twitter that maybe the officials mixed up offense and defense -- which if true is pretty inexcusable, especially at that stage of the game. But I've looked at it many, many times and I don't see anything. On TV they theorized that DRC has his right arm around the receiver. I couldn't see that either, but there's almost no way that back judge Steve Freeman could've seen it since he had basically the same angle we had on TV. It was just a truly horrible call. … I know some fans were up in arms about the roughing the passer call a little later on Giants DE Owa Odighizuwa. Sorry, that one was good. He took two, maybe three steps after Flacco released the ball and then hit him. It's an easy call.
7.) I don't know why Dwayne Harris is fielding punts inside the 10 yard line. He made fair catches at the 8 and the 7 and fielded one at the 5 that he returned for six yards. Isn't it worth the risk to let the punt bounce? Maybe it goes into the end zone for a touchback. Maybe it bounces forward. OK yes, if he lets it go perhaps the other team downs it closer to the goal line. But if you're already at the 8 or 7, it's not like they can get much closer. The fair catches especially feel like a big waste for me.
8.) Late in the first half, the Giants stopped the Ravens on third down to force a punt and McAdoo called his final timeout, which I liked. It gave the offense a little more time to try to get into field goal range. Yes, they wouldn't have any timeouts left, but there are ways to control the clock when the ball is in your hands. But here's what I don't get: The play ended at 1:19. The timeout didn't occur until 1:09. That's a waste of 10 seconds -- 10 seconds that could've come in handy when the offense ran out of time on their final drive of the half. Their last rushed play was run from the Baltimore 45 with eight seconds left. With 10 more seconds they wouldn't have had to rush and might've had another play left. (And oh, by the way, the officials' whistle can be heard on TV at 1:11, yet the clock kept running until 1:09. Bad job by the officials again there, and someone on the Giants should've been watching that. Every second counts).
9.) Eli Manning and Victor Cruz have looked very out of sync lately. One week after Cruz had zero catches, miscommunications between the two nearly led to two interceptions. On the first, Cruz cut in and Manning seemed to be throwing him an out route. The result was a pass about five yards behind him. On another, Cruz took off on a go-route while Manning threw as if he was supposed to run a slant. He ended up throwing it right into the hands of a defender and it was nearly picked off. Cruz ended up with three catches for 31 yards on seven targets, but they really do look off.
10.) I feel like there should be more positive things to say out of a win, but the story of this game was really Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and the goal-line stand. One particularly negative thing: The Giants' rushing attack. They ran the ball just 17 times for 38 yards. And considering they threw the ball 46 times, it's like they really didn't try to run at all. Keep in mind they played with a lead most of the game and were never down more than 10 points. Yet they call plays like they're down 30 all the time. Or maybe they just don't trust their ability to run. Either way, opposing defensive coordinators can see that, too.