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Eli Manning’s shining moment was nice, Giants showing progress was nicer

NFL: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, with a beleaguered head coach and a chance to rescue a season about to go off the rails against a bad Buffalo Bills team using its fourth starting quarterback, the New York Jets embarrassed themselves. They were never competitive, never seemed remotely interested in doing more than getting the game over with, and lost an astoundingly lopsided 41-10 game.

On Monday night, at 1-7 and with any chance of playing games that had meaning for the 2018 season having vanished long ago, the New York Giants could have simply gone through the motions. They could have just crumpled and figured this was another lost cause in a lost year, especially when the San Francisco 49ers went ahead 20-10 midway through the third quarter.

That, however, isn’t what happened.

Led by an imperfect and beleaguered in his own right 37-year-old quarterback fighting to maintain his job and his dignity in the midst of a second straight disastrous season, the Giants fought back.

They overcame that 10-point deficit. They got a game-winning drive from Eli Manning, albeit one helped by a pair of San Francisco penalties. They hung on with the 49ers reaching the Giants’ 21-yard line before Nick Mullens’ game-ending pass sailed out of the back of the end zone.

They won a game, beating the 49ers 27-23 on Monday Night Football.

“We made progress tonight,” head coach Pat Shurmur said. “As we go along here we’re going to have more victories. They’re going to always be hard fought. This team fights hard.”

The Giants made progress. Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what’s important?

They entered the game having won only four times in their last 24 outings.

For starters, they won. Sorry to disagree with those who were hoping the Giants would lose out, go 1-15, and get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. They still might get that No. 1 pick, but the view here is there is never anything wrong with winning. You remember this, right?

The Giants won the game because they did many of the things they were unable to do throughout the first eight games.

They protected Manning as he was sacked only once. Progress.

The quarterback responded by going 19-of-31 and throwing three touchdowns. He climbed the pocket beautifully on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. in the first half. He underthrew a deep shot to Beckham in the fourth quarter, but given a chance by the line he kept taking his shots. Progress.

The Giants created a couple of turnovers, with linebacker B.J. Goodson snagging a pair of deflected passes. Progress.

They got an excellent game from rookie linebacker Lorenzo Carter, probably his best as a pro. Progress.

They may have found a couple of useful players. Corey Coleman had a 51-yard kickoff return and a key third down catch for a first down. Guard Jamon Brown wasn’t perfect, but he threw a critical block on Manning’s first touchdown pass and his play offered reason for optimism. Progress.

The Giants, 31st in the league in the red zone, got touchdowns on two of their four trips inside San Francisco’s 20-yard line. They got field goals on the other trips, so they ended up with points on all four occasions. They did miss an opportunity when they chose to run on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line despite Beckham appearing to be uncovered. Not perfect, but progress.

Shurmur’s play-calling showed progress. More use of fullback Elijhaa Penny, including two pass receptions. A season- and career-high 20 carries for Saquon Barkley, many probing the edges. Some vertical passing in the second half that included using Barkley and tight end Evan Engram down the field.

Something that can’t be overlooked is that the Giants played hard for Shurmur. At this point a year ago, players were getting suspended and the locker room was fracturing. The team was coming apart.

The fact that that hasn’t happened this season, and that they fought back on Monday rather than folding their tents and figuring the outcome didn’t matter because the season was already lost, was something fans should feel good about. Again, it’s progress.

Manning leading a game-winning drive, the 36th of his career and maybe the last one we will ever see from the best quarterback in franchise history, was a feel-good moment. It is also probably what most of the headlines will focus on.

What was really important, though, was that the Giants made progress.

That, really, was the best thing that happened on Monday night.