EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A winning streak. The New York Giants finally have one.
It's been a while. An infuriating 700 days to be exact. It was December 2016 the last time the Giants strung together wins against the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
They have one now after winning two games in a span of six days against the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Giants beat the Bucs 38-35 on Sunday afternoon for their first home victory of the season and first winning streak in years.
Who cares if those teams are a combined 5-15 this season?
“The goal is to win every game,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said after reiterating this week the goal was to win out. “So six games left, it’s really only crazy until you do it.”
Finally, some reason for optimism in a seemingly lost Giants (3-7) season.
Rookie running back Saquon Barkley had a rushing and receiving touchdown in the first half. He’s the first Giants rookie running back since Butch Woolfork in 1982 to accomplish the feat. Barkley has been every bit as advertised this season and was again on Sunday. He finished with a career-high 142 yards rushing on 27 carries with three total TDs and was making Bucs defenders miss with amazing regularity.
Barkley and Beckham Jr. (who scored his fifth TD in six games on Sunday) give the Giants two All-Pro-caliber weapons on offense. This is something they can build around.
“[Barkley] has gotten better every week. That’s what you ask everyone to do and I thought [Sunday] was the best he ran,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “He had a better tempo. He was hitting the holes fast and was running hard. He was close to breaking a couple of long ones but was just efficient.”
Coach Pat Shurmur was hired this offseason because he was known as an offensive guru and quarterback whisperer. There were moments of doubt in the first half of the season as the Giants offense stumbled on a regular basis. They entered last week averaging 18.3 points per game. They’ve scored 65 points in the two games since.
There are rays of hope once again. Shurmur went into the bye week and made some necessary adjustments. He conceded that the Giants with Barkley might be better served running the ball more. They have in the two games out of the bye week. Barkley set a career high in carries each of the past two games.
It has taken pressure off the embattled offensive line and opened things up for quarterback Eli Manning. The Giants’ 38 points were the most since they scored 49 in a loss to the New Orleans Saints during the 2015 season. Shurmur’s offense is trending in the right direction after a slow start.
“We’re putting up more points. So we’re doing something right,” Beckham said. “We’re taking steps in the right direction.”
The offensive line and Manning are playing better. This likely goes hand in hand, but it’s encouraging since neither have played well for much of the past few years. The Giants claimed guard Jamon Brown off waivers during the bye and he put in a second straight strong effort. He’s made a difference.
Left tackle Nate Solder is also playing better, left guard Will Hernandez continues to flash promise and all of a sudden this embattled group is doing some good things. This is a core for the future. They took it to the Bucs all afternoon Sunday and believed right from the start – when they opened with three straight rushes for a first down -- they could run for five or six yards at will. It has been a while since a Giants team could say that.
“I felt that we could early in the game,” Brown said. “Early we felt them out and were able to figure out, ‘OK. We don’t think they want to sit in there and play this run.’ It felt like more of a game they wanted to rush the passer. Maybe that is because they are looking at stats.”
As for Manning, he completed 17 of 18 passes for 231 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed a career-best 94.4 percent of his passes.
For the second straight week Shurmur said he had a “winning performance.” Manning had five touchdown passes in the week’s two wins – after eight in the first eight games -- all with his starting job seemingly on the line. At the very least, Manning’s Giants career doesn’t seem to be ending sadly with weekly public beatings and an inability to get his team into the end zone. It means something to bounce out of the bye with consecutive wins.
“There is always personal satisfaction when you win football games,” Manning said. “I feel good for all the guys. The new guys, guys that have been here, the coaches. Losing, it is not fun for anyone. It is not about me. It is about this team coming together and doing it for everyone and for everyone to feel good about all the hard work that has been going in.”
Manning and the Giants have provided a sliver of optimism over the past week, with six games remaining. Beckham can still dream of that win-out scenario he’s been talking about for weeks.