Sunday’s one-sided 24-3 victory by the New York Giants over the Washington Redskins got them 2-2, the first time they have had a winning percentage of .500 or better since they finished the 2016 season 11-5 and made the playoffs as a wild-card team.
In his post-game speech to an excited locker room of players, coach Pat Shurmur told his team “now we’ve gotta build on it.”
“It’s a huge confidence booster for our team,” said center Jon Halapio. “The morale is good for our team right now. We’ve just gotta keep it going.”
The 2-2 start is a far cry and a tremendous improvement from 1-8 in 2017 and 1-7 in 2018. It also puts the Giants in a far better place than they were when, at 0-2, Shurmur benched quarterback Eli Manning and went to first-round pick Daniel Jones.
This is a great, optimistic place for the Giants to be in. They have a rookie quarterback who looks like he can lead them into the future. They put together a dominant offensive performance, holding the ball for more than 36 minutes and scoring 24 points without Saquon Barkley despite turning the ball over four times. They are getting better on defense. Four interceptions, three sacks and 176 total yards allowed is a dominant effort.
It’s all stuff to feel good, maybe great, about.
Still, those were the Washington Redskins the Giants just destroyed. The 0-4 really bad might have a new coach on Monday Washington Redskins who really couldn’t do anything right. On top of which, the Giants were a wide right 34-yard game-ending field goal away from losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week ago.
Still, having watched Sunday’s game it’s hard not to believe something dramatic has shifted for the Giants.
Jones, of course, is at the center of it.
It’s far too early to say the Giants were absolutely right to take Jones at No. 6 instead of Dwayne Haskins. Still, on Sunday Jones looked like the far more advanced quarterback. He went 23 of 31 for 225 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Haskins, getting his first action in relief of Case Keenum, was 9 of 17 for 107 yards, three interceptions and was sacked twice.
His Houdini-like escape for a 16-yard gain on third-and-13 from the Washington 41 in the third quarter amazed his teammates.
“No idea (how he escaped),” said Halapio. “I felt Daniel right behind me and I was like man this is gonna be a sack and then somehow he did his thing and got out of there.”
Jones also impressed by handling his back-to-back second quarter interceptions without shrinking.
“I’ve never seen him too up or too down,” Halapio said. “He’s always been the same mellow kind of guy. I didn’t see any change in his demeanor when he threw the picks.”
“Obviously, two mistakes that you can’t have, and costly ones,” Jones said. “Luckily, our defense stepped up and we were able to hold them off. Two things you learn from. I was just trying to focus on the next play. Look at it, learn from it, but get back to the next play.
Haskins on the other hand mostly looked like a confused kid playing his first game for a bad team.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman also had to feel good when safety Jabrill Peppers, acquired in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, salted away the game with a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Giants a commanding 24-3 lead, the score they eventually won by. Landon Collins had nine tackles, but the only time he was really noticed was when he had a post-game confrontation with Peppers before the team’s left the field.
Now things get interesting for the Giants.
The Minnesota Vikings, with one of the league’s best defenses, come to MetLife Stadium next Sunday. Five days later, the Giants travel to Foxborough to face the defending champion New England Patriots, who are currently 4-0 and have given up only 27 points.
“There certainly wasn’t any panic amongst the team or in our building at 0-2. I think we understood who we had. I think we understood the team,” Jones said. “Getting back to 2-2, you feel good about it. But at the same time, if we’re going to keep winning, we have to address a number of things. We have to improve a number of things as a team if we want to keep it going. I think it’s important that we understand that and like I said, keep moving forward.”
Shurmur was jubilant in his post-game locker room speech, telling players they need to “build on it” after Sunday’s performance.
“This is where I hoped we’d be after today, 2-2,” Shurmur said. “We will figure it out from there.”
They do have things to figure out.
First and foremost, are they as good as they looked in man-handling the Redskins on Sunday?
Perhaps not, but they are better than they were in their first two games. Jones, despite his inexperience, is responsible for a lot of that. His accuracy, ability to extend plays and make yardage when there doesn’t appear to be any available have been huge factors.
Can they continue to run the ball well without Barkley? Gallman had an excellent game and the Giants averaged 4.4 yards per carry as a team.
“We’ve gotta score points no matter who is playing. Obviously we want Saquon in there, we hate to see our guys out and hurt,” said Will Hernandez. “From an offensive lineman’s standpoint we’re going to go out and go 100 percent no matter who’s back there, no matter who’s in, no matter who’s out. We’re just going to keep coming and coming.”
What impact can Golden Tate have? The veteran wide receiver will return to the team this week as his four-game PED suspension is now over.
“We’ll get him back in and get him going,” Shurmur said.
Was the defense for real? The numbers were outstanding — four interceptions, three sacks, 176 yards and three points allowed. This, though, was a Washington team playing without several starting offensive linemen, its best wide receiver in Terry McLaurin and tight end Jordan Reed.
“I think our defense did a terrific job,” Shurmur said. “We made a few tweaks, I don’t think we made a lot of massive changes, but we made a few tweaks this week that I think settled our guys down, helped them be more comfortable, they were more disruptive, (and) we got pressure on the quarterback.”
What were those tweaks?
“I’ll let the team that has to scout us figure that out,” Shurmur said. “We just made some tweaks, some things, that I thought helped us, and those tweaks played out. Those tweaks worked today.”
EDGE Markus Golden, who had a half-sack and three quarterback hits, wasn’t giving away secrets. He did, though, talk about the work the defense has been putting in.
“We’ve been hard on ourselves in practice. Running around being hard on each other, making sure we’re doing our assignments and it’s starting to pay off,” he said.
We’ll see if that trend can continue when the Giants step up in class the next two weeks.
Who will play linebacker? The Giants finished the game with only David Mayo (a team-high 8 tackles) and newly re-signed Nate Stupar at linebacker after the knee injury suffered by Ryan Connelly. Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and Tae Davis (concussion) missed Sunday’s game.
Questions aside, the Giants are in a far better place than they were two weeks ago. They have hope, and they have a chance. They have something to play for.
Are they good enough to beat the Vikings next week? To compete with the Patriots?
I don’t know. No one will know until we see what happens in those two games.
Thinking about these questions, though, is a lot better than thinking about the questions we were asking just a couple of weeks ago.