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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Giants looking like a real Super Bowl contender

Jonathan Casillas and Olivier Vernon of the New

Jonathan Casillas and Olivier Vernon of the New York Giants pressure Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 18, 2016 in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo Credit: Mike Stobe

Jonathan Casillas is starting to get a feeling about the Giants. He’s starting to get that feeling, in fact, the one you have when you think this could turn out to be something special. Something Super Bowl-special.

Moments after the Giants beat the Lions, 17-6, to improve to 10-4 and edge ever closer to their first playoff berth since 2011, the linebacker offered as upbeat an assessment about this team as we’ve seen since that last championship season.

After holding the Cowboys and Lions — who had a combined record of 20-5 coming into MetLife Stadium — to a total of 13 points, Casillas couldn’t help but consider the possibilities in front of them.

“That’s what we’re looking at ourselves as, a championship-caliber defense, a championship-caliber team,” he said. “It’s starting to be a beautiful thing. Seven points [allowed] last week, six this week, that’s beautiful. We’re starting to put wins together, and we’re finishing. At the end of the day, December rolls into January, you want to be finishing these games.”

There hasn’t been a January for the Giants since the 2011 season, but they are closing in. It’s a win-and-in scenario for the Giants heading into Thursday’s game against the Eagles, and it would be an upset at this point if they don’t reach the playoffs. It’s starting to get real, especially with Casillas and the Giants’ resurgent defense having held two first-place teams to a touchdown and two field goals.

Here’s the thing to really like about these Giants: They’re able to think big because they’re getting the little things done.

There were no signature plays in yesterday’s win, not like that 61-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. that beat the Cowboys a week earlier. But there were small yet significant moments that added up to the kind of collective win that will make any coach proud.

“Great team win versus a very good football team,” Ben McAdoo said afterward. “All three phases played a part.”

This really was the ultimate team win, in which nearly every player who suited up contributed in ways big and small. Consider:

* Brad Wing’s two punts inside the 5 in the second half were incalculably important. The Giants had a 10-6 lead at the time, and the defense forced a three-and-out on the first and didn’t let the Lions past their own 40 on the second. How big were those two stops? Consider that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had an NFL-high eight fourth-quarter comebacks this season. “When it hit the fourth quarter, we started saying that this is where they get good at, this is where they start to thrive,” Casillas said.

* How about Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s touchdown-saving tackle on a deep ball down the right sideline? Golden Tate beat Rodgers-Cromartie badly, but the cornerback closed the gap and caught him from behind at the 11. “I tried to jump the route,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I came out of my zone and was undisciplined. That play should never have happened, but I just kept fighting and made sure I caught him before the touchdown.”

That became important when cornerback Leon Hall forced a fumble on the next play and teammate Olivier Vernon recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.

* Vernon and Johnathan Hankins sacked Stafford for a 5-yard loss at the Giants’ 15 on third down in the third quarter, a play that held the Lions to a field goal and kept the Giants in the lead at 10-6. It was the last time the Lions would score.

* Eli Manning’s mistake-free game was another significant part of the win. He was 20-for-28 for 201 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions.

“For the most part, that’s how it’s been all season,” Hall said of the Giants’ opportunistic play. “We’ve been trying to focus on doing our job and a little bit more, so those little things come to account. We’ve been working on that week-in and week-out, and in games like this, those things show up.”

The little things can turn into the big things. And by the time it’s over, perhaps the big thing.


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