PHILADELPHIA - If you've noticed something different about Eli Manning the last two weeks, you're right. And we're not talking about the fact that he hasn't thrown any interceptions in that span. It's that beard.
Manning won't say whether he's going all Boston Red Sox on the Giants, but he does confirm that the last time he shaved was sometime after his team lost to the Bears on Oct. 10.
Since then, the Giants have won twice, and Eli hasn't had any turnovers. Before that, the Giants were 0-6, and Manning had thrown 15 interceptions, the most in that long a span since he joined the Giants in 2004.
If the beard helps, why not?
"I always say the prefix of confidence is 'con,' meaning you can trick yourself into believing anything," linebacker Jon Beason said. "That's really what it's about. Guys right now believe in each other, are going out and laying it on the line and just doing their job and playing hard, and good things are happening."
Beard or no beard, Manning looks much closer to a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback these last two games than the lost soul who couldn't stop throwing interceptions in the first six. And though he offers little more than a shrug when asked if the beard will stay as long as the Giants are winning, his own improved play and that of his teammates has resuscitated a season that looked dead the last time he shaved.
The Giants followed up a stop-the-bleeding win over the Vikings last Monday with a more impressive 15-7 road win over the struggling Eagles Sunday.
It was far from perfect; the Giants could have and probably should have blown out the Eagles. But in a wacky NFC East race, the Giants ended the day only two games behind Dallas for the division lead. And if you don't think the Giants are enthused about that, you should have been in the locker room after Sunday's win.
As the Giants were getting dressed, a roar could be heard from the trainer's room, where several players crowded around a television set yelled when Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tricked the Cowboys' defense and scored the winning touchdown with 12 seconds left. Word quickly circulated around the locker room that Detroit had beaten the Cowboys, 31-30, and even general manager Jerry Reese emerged from the trainer's room with a huge smile.
"We still believe," Manning said. "That's been a great credit to this team, the coaches coming in and fixing the problems, and right now, these last two weeks, I think we've played our best football, and that's together as a team, both sides helping each other out. Our defense has been outstanding."
"Offensively, we've been better so we've got to continue to improve on a few things. We're gonna keep fighting. You never know what can happen."
Make no mistake: They still are a long shot to make the playoffs.
And remember, they've beaten two very bad and very beaten-up teams. The Vikings were awful with new starting quarterback Josh Freeman and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick reinjured his hamstring Sunday, leaving rookie Matt Barkley as the only alternative.
But give the Giants credit. They didn't start bickering with one another or at the coaches. They kept working, and they at least created a spark these last two weeks. The Giants remained so positive after their 0-6 start that Peyton Hillis -- whom the Giants signed because of an injury to Brandon Jacobs and who has never played for a winning NFL team -- was stunned by what he saw.
"These guys were 0-6, but you walked in the locker room and it seemed like they were 6-0," Hillis said. "They stay strong, they carry each other well and the personality from the coaches to the players is still professional, still first- class. I've been around a lot of losing organizations, and it seems like when you lose, it's just like a domino effect. Everybody starts feeling it. Everybody starts being affected. But not this team. I think a lot of [Giants players] from the Super Bowl team said, 'Hey, we started out [9-7 in 2011] and went to the playoffs and won. I think they know it's not all lost; if they stick together, there's a chance."
That's exactly what the vibe is. "When we were 0-6, you couldn't walk in that locker room and tell we were 0-6," Justin Tuck said. "We understand we're in kind of a little win streak here, but we have to be humble and understand that we still have a long way to go."
It'll be worthwhile only with one outcome. "The only time it will mean something," Tuck said, "is when hopefully we go on an eight-game winning streak after the bye and end the season 10-6."
Wishful thinking? Probably so. But at least the Giants have added some meaning to a season that looked lost a couple of weeks ago. Or just about the last time their quarterback shaved.