The Giants can win any given game on the strength of their running game and defense.
This was the takeaway from Sunday’s 24-20 victory against the Raiders. If the Giants get into a grinding, old-school game, they can play it, and they can play it pretty well. This has been their operating mode throughout their three-game winning streak, and it has worked.
The Giants are back in the NFC East race now, and we all know it was much, much worse than that just a month ago. The Giants were going nowhere. Now, they are plowing straight ahead, one foot in front of the other, toward the top of the division.
The question is, will this strategy be sustainable for the rest of the season?
The suspicion is no, it won’t be. That is to take away nothing from a Giants defense that has been simply outstanding in the last three games. And that is to take nothing away from tailback Andre Brown, who was wonderful in his return to action on Sunday.
However, at some point, an opposing offense will give the Giants’ defense fits. And at some point, a defense will shut down the run.
And that point, it’s going to be on the Giants’ passing game to win the game. And at that point, the Giants will need Eli Manning’s best play if they are to continue this survive-and-advance climb up the standings.
Manning didn’t play especially well on Sunday. He completed just 12-of-22 passes for 140 yards, with one touchdown and an interception returned for a score by Raiders cornerback Tracy Porter.
On Porter’s pick, Manning threw short for Victor Cruz, but the Raiders’ veteran cornerback saw it the entire way and took it back for a touchdown to give Oakland a 17-14 halftime lead.
“A guy just undercut it,” Manning said after the game. “I didn’t really get to step into the throw like I wanted to, and he just read it and made the play.”
In the fourth quarter, with the Giants leading 21-20, Manning had Cruz wide open on a third-down play near the Raiders’ goal line. However, Manning was off-target in the face of a strong Oakland rush, and the pass was wide. A likely touchdown turned into a field goal, giving the Giants a 24-20 lead.
The Giants were able to hold on for the victory. They have shown they win even if the passing game is off. But think of what they could be if Manning and Co. begin to hit their stride.
A good passing game is a team effort. Manning was sacked three times on Sunday; he needs time to operate in the pocket if he’s to succeed. The Giants’ receivers aren’t always consistent, either. This isn’t all on Manning.
Nevertheless, all eyes are on the quarterback. On his best, Manning can star in this spotlight. If he shines down the stretch, the Giants have a real shot at a storybook sprint from an 0-6 start to the NFC East title. After all, the Giants have the defense to win it, and now they appear to have a viable running game. It’s all coming together, but there’s one piece of the puzzle still sitting there. Now, let's see if the Giants can get it to snap into place.