Oh, if only this Giants run had started just a little bit sooner.
That's going to be the lingering sadness about this season, now that the Giants have won for the fourth time in their last five games. They're now 5-8 after their 40-16 pounding of the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md. on Sunday. They're starting to look like the team they thought they'd be.
If only they hadn't started 1-7. If only they had held on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago.
Even with those "What if" questions, they are still mathematically alive in the race for the NFC East title with three weeks to go. They still need a miracle. But their recent surge sure has given them a shot that halfway through the season they couldn't have expected to have.
Still, the Giants' eyes have to be on their future. And here are five questions that were raised by Sunday's game:
1. Did the Giants learn anything from their quick look at rookie QB Kyle Lauletta?
The Giants always planned to get a look at their fourth-round pick out of Richmond, and they preferred to do it the way they did on Sunday -- in the second half of a blowout. So what were the Giants able to learn about Lauletta after he entered the game with a 40-0 lead in the fourth quarter?
Probably not much. And nothing good. Lauletta looked like a rookie who has never played in an NFL game and has had barely any first-team snaps. He seemed to rush his throws, forced passes into coverage, and his arm didn't look very strong. He threw an interception on his second pass where he just didn't seem to see the linebacker cutting in front of receiver Russell Shepard, and he was 0-for-5 overall in five offensive series.
That's not very good.
The Giants do not view him as a slam-dunk to replace Eli Manning. They view him as a developmental prospect. This surely didn't change anything. And it definitely didn't make them rethink any of their options for 2019.
2. Is Olivier Vernon showing enough to convince the Giants to keep him around for next season?
The Giants edge rusher had another strong game and had 1 ½ sacks, giving him 3 ½ in the last two games. That's a huge performance for a player who missed the first five games of the season and then had just one sack in his first six games back.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said last week that he sees the 28-year-old Vernon playing better and faster because he's much healthier now. But he's still not productive enough to overcome the cap savings the Giants can get by letting him go. They could clear $11.5 million in cap room by letting him go in February. And it's still a good bet that they will.
3. Have the Giants finally settled on a good combination of five offensive linemen?
This group certainly has played better. They opened up a ton of holes in the running game on Sunday (as Saquon Barkley rushed 14 times for 170 yards and the Giants totaled 227 on the ground). They protected Eli Manning for the most part, though he was sacked two times. And despite some early struggles against Ryan Kerrigan, they did a decent job on him overall.
The obvious weak spot, though, is at right tackle. Chances are the Giants will look to replace Chad Wheeler in the offseason, though he's proven he should stick around for depth. They have a strong three in left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Will Hernandez, and right guard Jamon Brown (if they re-sign him). But a center and right tackle still are needs.
4.The Giants had 402 yards of offense and their first 40-point game since 2015, all without Odell Beckham Jr.? Can they win without him?
No. Not consistently. He's still their best player. And it's not as if anyone really stepped up in his absence. Sterling Shepard had two catches (on six targets) for 17 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Evan Engram had a 39-yard catch and receiver Corey Coleman had a 30-yarder, but other than that there wasn't much production in the passing game. Manning was just 14-for-22 for 197 yards (albeit with three touchdowns).
Beckham is still their most explosive offensive player and the guy defenses focus on. The Giants might have scored 60 if he was on the field. That's why all this trade talk that constantly swirls around him is so silly. He and Barkley might be the most irreplaceable players they have.
5. Do you believe in miracles? Can the Giants really pull this off and make the playoffs?
No. At least probably not. All they can do is keep winning and hope things somehow work out. They still need a lot of help from the rest of the division. Remember, they not only have to hope that 8-8 is enough to win it, but they have to climb over three teams, all of whom have tie-breaker advantages over them.
If they can get to 8-8, they should be thrilled with that after their 1-7 start. It'll be proof that they had more talent than they showed, and that this team was willing to fight for Pat Shurmur in a way they just weren't for Ben McAdoo a year ago. That will bode well for Shurmur's program and the future of their franchise, whether they squeeze into the playoffs or not.