EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The best thing about the early part of the NFL season is how quickly teams can change.
Take the New York Giants as an example. Just a week ago, Tom Coughlin’s team was winless in its opening two games. Eli Manning was looking over the hill and uncomfortable in the new West Coast offense.
The much-hyped defense had not recorded a turnover and there were visions of another 0-6 start and a third straight year out of the playoffs.
Guess what? The Giants (2-2) have not only turned things around in the past five days with wins over Houston and Washington — a 45-14 decision on Sept. 25th — they are rolling.
Manning is looking like a Super Bowl MVP again. Second-year tight end Larry Donnell has emerged as one of the biggest surprises in the league. The defense has had nine takeaways in the two wins as the defensive line has made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
The turnaround has many jumping on the Giants’ bandwagon and Coughlin telling his players to relax.
His message is simple. They are not as bad as they looked in losses to Detroit and Arizona and they are not as good as they looked lately. They are a .500 team.
“We have to continue that attitude about having that chip on our shoulder and having a lot to prove,” Coughlin said as his players prepared for a long weekend off. ” … I do know this, that if we want to accomplish what we would like to, the improvement meter has to go up weekly.”
After being limited to 28 points in the first two games, Manning and company have gotten new coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense in high gear, averaging 434 yards and 37.5 points the past two games.
Manning has completed 49 of 67 passes for 535 yards, six touchdowns and an interception that wasn’t his fault. The running game has produced 347 yards and Donnell has emerged a playmaker, leading the team with 25 catches for 236 yards and four touchdowns, three in the first half.
“No one likes to start 0-2, but two wins in a couple of days, four days, feels good,” said Manning, who is hitting almost 67 percent of his passes this season.
Donnell has come out of nowhere to be his favorite target. The former Grambling State product has used his athleticism to become a hard matchup for opponents.
“He works his butt off,” said safety Quintin Demps, who replaced Stevie Brown in the starting lineup and had an interception.
“He deserves it. Eli did a good job putting the balls where they had to be. He deserves it. He’s a good player and he’s only going to get better.”
The defense has been outstanding, taking the ball away nine times, with seven setting up drives that started in the opposition territory.
In the past two games, New York has started 10 drives inside its opponents’ territory, while neither the Texans nor Redskins started a drive in Giants’ territory in those games.
“We have always known the potential that has been on this team and with the leaders we have,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I am just glad that no one kept their head down and everyone just kept with it when we were 0-2.
“I know it is easy to get down on yourself when you lose games, but we knew the games we lost, the other team made plays, but we definitely were our own worst enemy with the penalties and assignment busts. We knew that if we eliminated all those things we’d have a great chance to win ball games.”
The Giants won’t play again until they face the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 5 at MetLife Stadium. The schedule through Thanksgiving is tough with Philadelphia, Dallas, Indianapolis, Seattle and San Francisco on tap.
“I think that we all knew this thing was going to click at some point and we were taking steps as the early part of the season went on, the first two games went on,” said receiver Victor Cruz, who has had 100-yard receiving games the past two games.
“You could see the progression in our offense and it was just a matter of when it was going to happen. We kicked up right at the right time in order for us to keep our goals in task and continue to head in the right direction.”
(TOM CANAVAN, AP Sports Writer)