EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants have made themselves relevant again with a modest two-game winning streak that has left them one game out of first place, and in the thick of the Wild Card chase one quarter of the way through the season. They have an exciting young quarterback, lots of confidence, and a little bit of momentum.
But is it all just too good to be true?
The next 10 days will tell that story, as the Giants enter a difficult and critical stretch of their season. On Sunday, they face the Minnesota Vikings (2-2), owners of the sixth-best defense in the NFL. Four days later, they travel to New England (4-0) to face a Patriots defense that ranks No. 1. Those are two legitimate playoff contenders with defenses that quarterback Daniel Jones will find hard to decipher.
At the other end of this stretch, the Giants could look like a legitimate playoff team -- if they can find a way to survive.
"Well, I think we've had four tough games already," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. "We've played against four really tough defenses already. The Cowboys were tough. We saw again what Buffalo did yesterday against New England, they've got a really outstanding defense. Tampa Bay was a tough defense, and then this front that we played against yesterday -- that was a really physical group.
"That's what NFL football is all about, is playing against tough defenses."
OK. But while that may be true of the Cowboys and Bills -- two teams the Giants faced with Eli Manning at the helm, by the way -- the Bucs and Redskins aren't near the class of defenses the Giants will face the next two weeks.
Don't forget: A lot has changed the last few weeks, especially at quarterback. And even overall, the Giants' recent run is really only six quarters long, since they found themselves in a 28-10 halftime hole in Tampa two weeks ago.
Since then, they have outscored their opponents 46-6 thanks in large part to a defensive revival. Maybe it's easy to dismiss what they did on Sunday in a 24-3 win over Washington since the Redskins are awful. But what they did in the second half in Tampa looks a lot better after the Bucs scored 55 on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
Still, that's no comparison to what comes next, which is when everyone will see if the Giants' surge is for real. For now, all they can do is grasp onto the few encouraging signs that this mini-run isn't a mirage. Such as…
The offensive line has been stellar
For all the heat Giants GM Dave Gettleman has taken, his rebuilding of the offensive line might go down as one of his greatest successes. They allowed no sacks vs. Washington and powered a Saquon Barkley-less rushing attack to 164 yards. They weren't nearly as good in the second half against Tampa (39 rushing yards, four sacks allowed), but they were stuck in a pass-first situation trying to come from behind.
Overall, this line has given the Giants' quarterbacks plenty of time and the running backs plenty of room. They're not one of the NFL's best units, but they're in the top half of the league -- a far cry from where they were. And as Gettleman has been saying for two years, the offensive line is where everything has to start.
The defense is creating turnovers, too
Not allowing many points is one thing for a defense, but what really turns a game is turnovers. Yes, Washington had quarterback issues, but four interceptions against any team is still impressive. Add in the one from linebacker Ryan Connelly in the fourth quarter against the Bucs and that's five in the last six quarters.
The Giants did only convert two of those into touchdowns (one on a pick-six, and one was at the end of the game), so they do have to do better with that. But getting the ball back is what's going to give Jones a chance.
Golden Tate is about to return
When the Giants signed Tate for $37.5 million for four years in March, they felt he was the key to making up for the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. Maybe they're not the same player, but Tate had averaged 89 catches for 1,004 yards per season over the last five years. Then came his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and suddenly the Giants' receiving corps was very shorthanded.
But now he's back, and that can only help to open things up for Sterling Shepard and even tight end Evan Engram. He is a major upgrade over Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Russell Shepard or anyone else they've had to put into that No. 2 receiver role. His presence alone will make moving the ball much easier for Jones.
Daniel Jones' legs and play-action skills really keep defense off balance
A lot has been made about Jones' mobility and how it keeps defenses honest and worried. They have to keep their eye on him because he can create plays outside the pocket. At some point, they're going to have to consider using one defensive player as a quarterback spy.
But his play-action ability is just as huge. His ability to hide the ball when he keeps it, or make it look like he has it when he doesn't, seems to have really frustrated defenses the last two weeks. If a defender isn't sure where the ball is, he's instantly on his heels, and the ability to do that allows Pat Shurmur to open his playbook.
Everything, from gadget plays, to bootlegs, to simple runs up the middle are more dangerous with a little deception.
They are really confident. And so is the head coach
Anyone who has been around the Giants since, say, 2013, will tell you this has rarely been a confident group. They've talked a good game at times, but there's always been an underlying frustration about…something. Anything. They spent too much time plugging holes or reacting to other teams, instead of going out and really feeling like they could dictate play in any game.
It's early, but the switch from Manning to Jones seems to have renewed that confidence. As several players noted on Sunday, a lot of that has to do with winning two straight games. But the renewed energy from the quarterback position has a lot to do with it, too. They feel like they are at the beginning of something, instead of clinging to the end.
And nowhere is that clearer than in Shurmur's demeanor. He's seemed more relaxed, confident, and in control in his press conferences, and some players have noticed a change. It's as if making the much-anticipated quarterback switch took a large weight off his back, allowed him to exhale, and enabled him to run the team his way, no matter what.
Of course, the best way to ruin anyone's confidence would be to lose a couple of games. That's why this stretch is so critical. Imagine how confident this team will be if they come out OK on the other side.