The Giants Return to Work With Eye on Rebound

Giants could be playing to hold onto first place on Sunday night

It was just five weeks ago ago that the Giants went into San Francisco and wiped the floor with the 49ers in a blowout win that had people talking about a repeat Super Bowl title. 

Thanks to the way the Giants have played in the four games since that victory, it feels like it has been at least twice as long as that. That was the last moment that the Giants looked like a playoff contender, let alone a contender to challenge for the championship of the entire league. 

Everyone had their own theory about why the Giants cratered after that 49ers game, which made sense because it would be impossible to say that a team playing as badly as the Giants was just one little tweak away from everything going right. The Giants obviously couldn't fix what was wrong on the fly or they would have done it, so the hope is that the bye week has done them some good. 

Eli Manning said it has, reversing course from his earlier denial of having a tired arm by saying Monday that his arm has more pop than it did before he took a week off from all football activities. Manning's passes weren't always without zip -- see the would-be touchdown against the Bengals that Victor Cruz dropped -- and the line's inability to pass protect after Tom Coughlin decided that David Diehl deserved a starting job based on tenure instead of merit seemed to be just as big a problem, but if Manning feels better that's certainly a good thing for the offense. 

As for the defense, defensive end Justin Tuck says that the group lost some of its focus in the last few weeks. He also said that the losing streak hasn't cost the team any confidence, saying that the Giants are actually "borderline cocky" when it comes to their ability. 

One might suggest that there's a pretty clear line between being overconfident and losing focus on doing the little things that enable you to take care of a task at hand, but Tuck didn't seem to see the connection between the two things. Not that it matters what Tuck says or that the team meeting the players held on Monday. 

That's all for show, an attempt to make it seem like the team is working on what's wrong and just part of the process that goes on for every team in the league. It ultimately doesn't mean anything because having a little chat here and there isn't going to help you block, tackle or score. 

What will help is getting Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw healthy enough to give the offense a full complement of weapons while Tuck figures out that he'll help the team a lot more by stepping up on the field instead of spending so much energy on his often entertaining but ultimately useless media sessions. And the help needs to come immediately. 

The Giants once had a huge lead in the NFC East, but it is mostly gone after the last three weeks of play and could be totally gone by the time they take the field against the Packers. If the Cowboys beat the Redskins on Thursday, they will be positioned to move into first place with another Giants loss. 

That would mean that the Giants no longer control their own playoff destiny and that they will have to navigate a tough closing stretch -- opponents have a 36-24 record this year -- without having any margin for error available to them. The Giants have always liked to make things more difficult than they need to be during games and it looks like they've decided to do it again on a macro scale this season. 

It's certainly more interesting than just playing well all of the time, but it's hard to find too many people that would rather be interesting than successful. 

Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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