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Giants’ stunning upset makes us think what might have been

New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) reacts

New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, in Denver. Credit: AP / Joe Mahoney

DENVER -- Well, that was fun, wasn’t it, Giants fans?

Inexplicable, prime-time road victories in seemingly hopeless circumstances usually are. So by all means, savor Sunday night’s 23-10 upset of the Broncos at Sports Authority Field.

The Giants did. As they walked back to their locker room, they were as giddy as a team after a playoff victory, and when it was over, Eli Manning spent quality time visiting with his mother, wife, eldest daughter and older brother Peyton.

Family reunions always are more fun after victories. “It’s just a special win with everything going on,” Eli said in an understatement.

But there was a downer of a subtext to consider for the Giants and their fans: thoughts of what might have been.

If this is what the injury-ravaged, suspension-depleted, universally doubted, previously winless Giants are capable of against one of the NFL’s best teams on its home field, where might they be with a couple of fewer losses in their past and a couple of more healthy wide receivers in their future?

They would be somewhere, at least, rather than still nowhere in the NFC playoff race. But those are thoughts for another day — perhaps when the Seahawks visit in Week 7 for a potential reality check.

For now, let’s give these guys credit for a stunner that dropped the Broncos to 3-2 and lifted the spirits of everyone associated with the Giants just when they needed it most.

“I don’t think anyone picked us to win this game,” Manning said. “We knew the circumstance we put ourselves in, but the only thing you can do is be responsible for how you handle the situation in every game, and that’s all you can worry about.”

How did they do it? The same way they will have to do it henceforth: with a conservative, run-based offense and a dynamic defense that among other things kept Broncos linebacker Von Miller to a quiet evening.

Not that it was easy. “There was a spin move where he got pressure on Eli where it was like he teleported,” Giants offensive tackle Justin Pugh said, marveling.

But the Giants’ defense made far more big plays than Denver’s did, including a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown and a forced fumble by Janoris Jenkins.

The Giants even unveiled a new play-caller in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, to whom McAdoo handed the reins early in the week and who is likely to keep the job for the foreseeable future.

Manning’s performance Sunday night hardly could be called dynamic, but he showed why he still has value as a steadying influence in a time of distress.

He and Sullivan had to piece something together and did just enough to keep things under control against a fierce Denver defense while waiting for the Giants’ defense to get on the field and make things happen.

At some point in the relatively near future, the Giants will have to move on to someone younger at quarterback, perhaps as early as sometime next season if the Giants land a very early draft pick and use it on a QB.

But for now, the Giants need Manning and need the fired-up defense we saw against the Broncos to keep a dire situation from spiraling out of control under McAdoo.

Pretty much everything went the Giants’ way in Denver.

With the score 17-3 midway through the third quarter, Aldrick Rosas made a 51-yard field goal, and it was 20-3.

The fourth quarter began with the Broncos converting on a fourth-and-5 play, only to have Jenkins strip receiver Demaryius Thomas. Eli Apple recovered the fumble. Later, the Giants sealed the victory with a stop on fourth down from inside the 1-yard line.

Oh, my. It was the craziest result yet in a crazy NFL weekend.

Maybe it meant something, perhaps a midseason return to respectability. Or maybe come December, we will look back and see that it meant nothing.

But for one night, Giants fans at last could watch without cringing. It’s a pity that that counts as progress.

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