Champions aren't crowned in October, but Sunday's win over the 49ers had so much physicality and emotional intensity that it was easy to forget the leaves are still on the trees. And with the Giants playing such a well-balanced game in a convincing win, well, talk of a potential Super Bowl repeat was inevitable.
At least one Giants player was willing to embrace it.
Linebacker Michael Boley said that with their 26-3 throttling of the 49ers, there is "no doubt" that the Giants sent a statement to the league that they are in position to make a run for a second straight title.
"I think we feel that once we put everything together -- offense, defense and special teams -- that's something that is going to be tough for teams to beat us," Boley said. "We kind of put everything together [Sunday] and we showed that we're a team to be reckoned with."
Now the challenge becomes keeping it together. There are nearly four months and at least 12 possible games between Sunday's victory and another spot in the Super Bowl. The last two times the Giants won a title, they went into the playoffs as one of the last on the guest list before winning it all. They know it's important to be playing their best at the end of the season. Peaking now gives them nothing.
That's not to say they did not enjoy the victory and all it represented. Using defensive turnovers, keeping the 49ers out of the red zone the entire game, running for 149 yards . . . all of it added up to that phrase the players and coaches often use to describe the way things ought to be. Giants football.
"It was good that we were able to step up in a big game," Eli Manning said Monday on his weekly radio appearance on WFAN. "That was by far our best performance as a team . . . I think the team played the way we expect to play each week. We know it's not always going to be like that, but I think for the first time this year, we played to our full potential."
Now the Giants have a chance to increase their NFC East lead. They face the Redskins on Sunday, then travel to Dallas. It's not outside the realm of possibility for them to have a three-game lead in the division at the halfway point. It's also not hard to see them falling back to .500 by then.
"It's very early in the season," Tom Coughlin said, "but it's time for us to build on [Sunday's win], and we have some critical games right flat in front of us."
Late last season, the Giants came off an emotional win over the Cowboys in which they produced a balanced effort and grabbed hold of first place -- much like Sunday -- only to lose to the Redskins at home. Coughlin said he is not concerned about a letdown, though.
"I don't know how [there could be one]," he said. "We lost twice last year to Washington. Washington just came off a huge win . . . We need to get going in the division."
Nor does Boley think there will be a slip. "I'm not afraid of a letdown," he said. "We need to take what we did [Sunday] and make that carry over into this week's game. Don't have any letdowns."
If the Giants can do that for another dozen or so games, then the 49ers victory will be looked back on as the beginning of something special. If not, then, like some of those impressive wins in the 2008 season, it might just fade away as a sad reminder of what could have been.