Things certainly have changed for the Giants.
Two weeks ago, they trudged out of MetLife Stadium as a winless team that seemed poised to slog through the next three months of barely watchable games. On Sunday, they strolled from the same exact locker room in a vastly different position and with a staggeringly different attitude.
Two straight wins, including this 24-3 drubbing of Washington, have altered the perspective and possibilities. They keep losing key players to injuries and are far from playing flawless football. But they also are doing something they haven’t done in years.
For the first time since 2016, the Giants are at .500. And for the first time since 2016, they head into October with optimism.
The key to the metamorphosis? Obviously, they made the big move at quarterback and relied on some tweaks to the defense Sunday. But strangely enough, the most impact may have come from not changing at all.
“One thing we never lost was who we actually are as a team,” guard Will Hernandez said. “We didn’t play like it for two games and we were upset. We were upset more than anybody. But we turned it around because that’s the kind of guys we have on this team.”
Added center Jon Halapio: “The energy is just different. A lot of it has to do with that we’re winning now, too, a little winning streak. We’re just playing good football as a team.”
Years from now, Sunday’s contest may be remembered as Daniel Jones’ first career start at MetLife Stadium. In short-term history, though, the Giants’ victory had very little to do with him.
Wayne Gallman, starting in place of injured Saquon Barkley, scored two touchdowns, and a much-maligned Giants defense harassed Washington into four turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown by Jabrill Peppers.
All 53 players on the team likely would say that Jones is not responsible for the turnaround, partly out of reverence for Eli Manning, whom he replaced, and partly because, well, it’s true.
Jones was 23-for-31 for 225 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his second career start. He also ran for 33 yards on five carries. He made a number of important plays, but he did not exactly carry or will the Giants to this victory.
“It’s definitely a group effort,” tight end Evan Engram said. “Obviously, he’s brought a great energy to our team and has played his butt off the last two weeks, but I think it’s a group effort that we’ve fought, stuck together and believed in each other.”
Still, it is Jones who has come to personify the about-face from a psychological standpoint even if he didn’t do it from a statistical one this time.
“Daniel is a great player for us,” Hernandez said. “He gives us the chances that we need, extends plays . . . I think once one player steps up, it’s kind of a snowball effect. The offensive line starts blocking better, the receivers have more time to get open, quarterbacks can throw better throws. There is a kind of a chain reaction.”
Jones is the first rookie quarterback to win his first two starts for the Giants since Phil Simms in 1979. It took Manning 10 months from the time he became a starter to the time he collected his second win.
Gallman had 63 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards. He scored the opening touchdown on a 6-yard pass from Jones and gave the Giants a 14-0 lead on a 1-yard run early in the second quarter. After the second of Jones’ two interceptions, Washington drove to the 1 and had first-and-goal but had to settle for a field goal late in the first half to close to 14-3. The Giants responded with a drive that took up the final 2:14 of the half and was capped by a 30-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas.
Before halftime, Washington replaced starting quarterback Case Keenum with its rookie, Dwayne Haskins. It barely mattered. Peppers intercepted Haskins and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown with 1:19 left in the third quarter to give the Giants a 24-3 edge. Janoris Jenkins had two interceptions after that.
Woeful Washington (0-4) might not be an accurate barometer. The Giants’ next two games are against the Vikings and Patriots in a span of five days beginning next Sunday.
But after so much misery in recent years, even being even is worth celebrating. Consider that Dalvin Tomlinson has the longest starting streak on the team, and this is the first time in his career that he is at .500 and not on a losing team. For many other Giants, it’s also their first nibble of success with the organization.
They’ll get veteran receiver Golden Tate back this week from his four-game suspension, they might get Barkley back in a month or so, and they’re not among the early carcasses of the NFL schedule.
“We’d like to be 4-0,” Engram said. “It’s definitely good the way we fought back after being 0-2. But we can’t be complacent or satisfied. It feels good. We have to keep going.”
It’s been quite a turnaround for the Giants’ defense since halftime of their Week 3 win over the Bucs:
TDs Pts. Allowed
First 10 quarters 12 91
Last 6 quarters 0 6