Maybe it was Daniel Jones’ hamstring injury and the uncertainty around it that prevented the Giants from reveling too much in their win. Or maybe the fact that they let the underwhelming Bengals and their third-string quarterback make things interesting late in Sunday’s 19-17 game in Cincinnati kept their reactions muted.
Then again, maybe one of the reasons the Giants find themselves where they are — in first place in the NFC East with five games to go — is that they were so unimpressed by the accomplishment itself.
It’s the first time they have had at least a share of the top spot in the division since early in 2016, a stretch that encompasses the entire Giants tenure of nearly every player on the roster.
Their reaction to that was literal apathy.
"Who cares?" safety Logan Ryan said of the current state of the standings. "Who honestly cares?"
Let’s pretend for a moment that someone might. For that hypothetical person, Sunday’s victory was one worthy of celebration.
It gave the Giants a three-game winning streak, ending the NFL’s longest active streak without one that dated to that 2016 playoff season.
After an 0-5 start to the season, the Giants have climbed back into the playoff picture. They are tied for first with Washington at 4-7, with the Giants ahead by virtue of their season sweep of their co-leaders. (It should be noted that Philadelphia, which is 3-6-1, will play Seattle on Monday night and can reclaim the top spot with a win.)
Let’s marvel, too, for the sake of argument, at how the Giants won this game.
With Jones on the sideline, it was up to the running game and the defense to close out the victory. They gained 142 yards on the ground and had the ball for 37:26, their highest time of possession since 2013. The defense came up with three takeaways in the second half, including a strip-sack by Jabaal Sheard that was recovered by Leonard Williams one play after a 29-yard punt return put the Bengals at the 50 with 57 seconds left.
The Giants beat the Bengals on the backs of two players who were almost unable to walk a year ago (backup quarterback Colt McCoy and kicker Graham Gano), a running back who was a healthy scratch for the team in Week 2 (Wayne Gallman, who had a touchdown and a career-high 94 rushing yards), a practice squad defensive lineman from Dartmouth who made his NFL debut with an interception (Niko Lalos) and a safety who could make the Pro Bowl who had never played that position before this season and was sitting around as a free agent a week before the season began (Ryan, whose forced and recovered fumble was a big turning point in the fourth quarter).
That such a lineup led them to first place is more than impressive. It’s almost miraculous. And there was at least a sliver of recognition regarding that.
"This locker room was extremely excited afterwards," said McCoy, who finished the game after Jones left in the third quarter.
Such joy apparently was short-lived. Years ago the Giants punctuated big wins by pouring Gatorade on their coaches. These days they seem to do it by having the coaches pour cold water on the players or anyone who might dare to get ahead of themselves.
"Our division, everyone is kind of on equal ground, so all that matters is what we do in the next game," Joe Judge said. "We have to be short-sighted and just focus on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I know that sounds like pure coach-speak. You guys are probably looking at me like ‘OK, Joe.’ But listen . . . we have to put one day on top of the other to have a chance next Sunday [in Seattle], which will be a great challenge for us, to even be in the conversation with what you guys are trying to talk about."
Judge’s party-pooper ways do seem to be working.
"We had some tough losses [early in the season], some close losses that in the past have really knocked us out," said tight end Evan Engram, who had six catches for 129 yards. "We didn’t allow that. We just continued to work. We’re playing as a team. We’re playing together. It wasn’t a very good-looking win today, but the team’s played together."
The big test is upcoming.
The next four games will be critical to how this story ends. After Seattle, the Giants play Arizona, Cleveland and at Baltimore, all teams with winning records. The Giants have yet to beat anyone with a winning record this season. In fact, they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since 2018.
"I don’t know what their records are, but line them up, we have to play them," Ryan said. "This is not the team from the beginning, this is not the team that played Pittsburgh in Week One . . . It’s our job to finish strong. I don’t want to play with anybody who starts fast and doesn’t finish. We didn’t start fast, but we worked, we believed, and this is where we are now."
It’s a team that is 4-7 and, unlike most throughout NFL history with such a record, still very much alive for a playoff berth.
The Giants will be playing meaningful games in December in a season in which they were barely doing so in October.
That should be applauded, even if the Giants refuse to do so themselves.