Justin Pugh is in his third NFL season. He's seen a lot and experienced the ups and downs of pro football in that time. Monday, though, was the first time in his career that he woke up as a member of a first-place team.
"That's crazy," he said when he thought about it for a moment. "But I want to keep it that way."
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For the young Giants to do just that, they'll have to learn to handle their newfound status as front-runners. Only seven active players in Sunday night's victory over the 49ers were on the team the last time the Giants were atop the NFC East standings in late 2012. Many of the current Giants players have known only losing. Now they will have to adjust to prosperity and the view from the top.StoryOBJ, Randle injuries could hamstring GiantsColumnGlauber: Vereen has been valuable to Giants
"Keep your head down and keep grinding," advised running back Shane Vereen, who spent the previous four years with the perpetually first-place Patriots. "We still have a long way to go. It's a long, long season ahead of us . . . The job is not done, the job is just getting started."
Those who were with the Giants last year certainly recognize that. The Giants were in almost the exact same place at this point in 2014: 3-2, on a three-game winning streak and heading to Philadelphia for a prime-time game against the Eagles in Week 6.
The Giants lost that game -- and Victor Cruz for the year -- and went on a seven-game skid that eliminated them from playoff contention by Thanksgiving.
"It wasn't a good feeling," defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. "We went up there and laid an egg. Hopefully, it'll be different this year."
Tom Coughlin already is trying to make it so. In his address to the team after Sunday's stirring comeback win, he reminded the players of that trip to Philly a year ago. Coughlin said he made the reference to "get their minds right and make them understand what's in front of us."
Did it work? Too soon to tell, he said. "We'll know more when we see them on Thursday."
There are plenty of reasons to believe that these Giants won't suffer the same fate as last year's team. Coughlin pointed to the "grit" and "scrappiness" of this bunch. He also noted that they have had players step up when called upon because of injuries.
"Every guy that was dressed had to make a contribution, and they did," Coughlin said. "[Geremy] Davis, look at the catch he made, a 16-yarder on third-and-1. And that was a critical part. Myles [White] is out there running around and gave a good performance and accounted for himself. Will Tye played well. These guys are coming up with some games that are helping us."
So, too, are the counted-on stars, even the ones who have never experienced comeback wins and first place. Odell Beckham Jr. left the field Sunday night choked up about the outcome. After having so many games slip away from them in the past two seasons, the Giants finally were able to yank one away from someone else.
"It was definitely a great win and I was a little overwhelmed at the end," he said. "It seems like we're always counted out. Things don't always go our way. In the past, we've made these mistakes. They say history is doomed to repeat itself and it was just great to see this team and the fans just light the stadium up."
This may be the first time many Giants are in first, but they'd prefer it not be their last.