EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There has been a dark cloud that has hovered over the Meadowlands for far too long. Too many years where the atmosphere felt stale, where it felt like a stretch to find any actual hope.
It doesn't feel that way around the Giants anymore.
"The energy is just different," said center Jon Halapio. "A lot of it has to do with we're winning right now, too."
Yeah, two straight wins can certainly do that, especially with the way the Giants dominated the Washington Redskins on Sunday, 24-3. But the Giants have had winning streaks before, even during the last seven mostly miserable seasons. There's much more to it than just a couple of wins that helped them to a 2-2 record.
The difference this time is all about Daniel Jones.
Just two games into his tenure as the Giants' starting quarterback there is no denying the spark that the 22-year-old has provided. And it wasn't just with the fans, who were starved for something new, and who gave the kid a loud ovation when he took the field for his home debut. It's with the organization and his teammates too. They can't stop raving about his ability, his leadership and his demeanor.
And the theme always seems to be the same: Whether it's one play, one game, or one entire season, they look at Jones and believe he gives them a chance.
"He gives us the chances that we need," said guard Will Hernandez. "He extends plays. He makes life for offensive linemen a little easier. Once one player steps up it's kind of like a snowball effect. We start blocking better, receivers have more time to get open, quarterbacks can throw better throws. It's just kind of a chain reaction and I think that's kind of what's been going on."
The chain reaction hit the full team on Sunday, including a defense that had been largely dreadful through the first three games of the season. With a few "tweaks" to the scheme, as Pat Shurmur put it, the Giants held the hapless Redskins to 176 yards. The secondary, torched in each of the first three games, had three of the Giants' four interceptions. Meanwhile, Wayne Gallman stepped in to the injured Saquon Barkley's shoes and had 118 total yards and the offensive line didn't allow a sack.
Jones? He was a pedestrian 23 of 31 for 225 yards and a touchdown. He also threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the first half and a few drives later very nearly threw a third. That was a moment, in fact, where some might have expected a young quarterback to have a breakdown.
But not the Giants, and not with Jones.
"We have full faith in him," Hernandez said. "We just simply believe that he's going to fix it. We knew that Daniel was going to get it together.
"After those plays you wouldn't have known that he didn't just throw a touchdown pass," Shurmur said. "That's part of his charm."
That "charm" can have a remarkable calming effect on a team when the man in charge (on the field) isn't flustered when things go wrong. It's one of the things the Giants loved about Jones' predecessor, too.
"He's just like Eli (Manning)," Halapio said. "I didn't see any change in his demeanor when he threw the picks. He just bounced back."
But Jones has another level to that, which Manning never could really match -- an ability not just to be calm in the pocket when things are going wrong, but to escape and make everything right. He did that on a play early in the second half when he dropped back to pass on 3rd and 13 and was a split second away from being sacked. Somehow, he avoided the first rusher, spun away from two others, and took off for 16 yards and a first down. That would've been a touchdown drive, too, if rookie running back Jon HIlliman hadn't fumbled at the Redskins 3.
But that's the perfect example of what Jones has done. It's a play that would've been a sack at any point in the last seven years. It's a promising drive that would've ended with a punt. And no one would've been surprised because that's just how things had been going for the Giants.
But Jones turns the Giants' fortunes around instead and no one is surprised. They simply believed he would do it. He has instilled a confidence in this team that has been sorely lacking. He's given them not just a belief that they're better than they've showed, but just enough of a push to go out there and show it.
"This shows who we actually are as a team," Hernandez said. "We didn't play like it for two games and we were upset. We were upset more than anybody. We quickly turned it around because that's kind of the heart of the guys we have on this team."
Jones has become the beat of that heart. Yes, he's only made two starts and his rookie struggles are surely coming. Absolutely this was a win against an awful Redskins team. And surely the two games the Giants face against the Minnesota Vikings and then up in New England in the next 11 days will really show whether they have a chance to be a contender this season.
But they believe. Their fans believe. And it feels like this time they're not just saying that. This time they seem to have an actual reason for hope.
And they have Jones to thank for that.