Giants quarterback Colt McCoy, right, greets running back Alfred Morris...

Giants quarterback Colt McCoy, right, greets running back Alfred Morris (41) against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Seattle.  Credit: AP/Elaine Thompson

There shouldn’t have been a lot to be optimistic about.

Starting quarterback Daniel Jones, despite a strong pregame workout and a last-minute plea to the coaching staff, was on the bench because of a hamstring issue. The Giants hadn’t beaten a team with a winning record in more than two full years. They’d flown all the way across the country to face an offense that was averaging more than 30 points per game. And if they’d taken a look at the point spread at any time before kickoff, they would have seen themselves at double-digit underdogs.

But none of that mattered to the Giants.

"We walked in here confident, I’m not going to lie to you," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "The team had a different swagger about them, the team had a different juice about them today because we knew that if we played our brand of football, we could shock a lot of people."

The Giants did just that with a 17-12 win over the Seahawks that not only temporarily gave them sole possession of first place in the NFC East but vaulted them to the top of the list of teams no one will want to face in the postseason.

It was the fourth straight win for the Giants (5-7), their longest streak since 2016. They moved a half-game ahead of Washington (4-7), a team against whom they have a tiebreaker advantage by virtue of their season sweep.

The Giants’ fifth victory in seven games after a 0-5 start showcased a dominating running game and a smothering defense as they followed their game plan to near perfection.

Dexter Lawrence #97, Jabrill Peppers #21 and Isaac Yiadom #27...

Dexter Lawrence #97, Jabrill Peppers #21 and Isaac Yiadom #27 of the Giants celebrate an interception by Darnay Holmes #30 (not pictured) against the Seahawks on December 06, 2020 in Seattle. Credit: Getty Images/Abbie Parr

The best way to win with a backup quarterback, it turns out, is to make him a non-factor, and the Giants did that with Colt McCoy. They ran for almost twice as many yards as they threw for, 190-100 in net production, and had McCoy throw on only 22 of the 55 offensive plays.

In exchange for that, they gave him his first win as a starting quarterback since 2014 and the eighth of his career.

Wayne Gallman ran for a career-high 135 yards and McCoy completed 13 of 22 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

It was the kind of victory that validated the Giants as postseason contenders. After racking up victories over teams who, like them, sported losing records, this win over the first-place Seahawks (8-4) was a statement to the rest of the league.

What it wasn’t was some kind of magic moment for the Giants themselves. Sure, they felt great about the result, and yes, safety Logan Ryan trotted off the field in Seattle chirping at some of the reporters in attendance: "Do you believe yet?" That fact of the matter is, the Giants have always believed.

Even when they were 1-7 and regularly losing games like this one that came down to the final minute of play.

"Then more than now was when I realized how good of a team we had," said defensive lineman Leonard Williams, whose 2.5 sacks on Sunday led the front end of the defense. "I was more proud of these guys then than I am now . . . It’s easy to see the good things when you are winning, but I feel like we all saw the good things when we were losing. Eventually it turned into a snowball and it kept building up and building up."

Right up to Sunday’s avalanche of appreciation.

"I’ve seen this group make a lot of improvement day in and day out, which carries over to week to week," Joe Judge said. "That’s starting to show in the results we’re getting. We put them through a lot of stuff and I’m proud they get to receive some tangible results for their hard work."

The Giants were simply hanging around, relying on their defense to keep them in the game, until early in the third quarter, when Gallman found a seam on the left side and sprinted through it for a 60-yard gain. Two plays later, Alfred Morris scored on a 4-yard run and McCoy hit Sterling Shepard for a two-point conversion to give the Giants an 8-5 lead.

The Giants’ defense got the ball back and went right back to the formula that had been working. Gallman had back-to-back runs of 13 and 23 yards and McCoy hit Morris for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 2:29 left in the third quarter. Graham Gano missed the extra point for the first time this season, but the Giants had a 14-5 lead.

After an interception by Darnay Holmes, Gano kicked a 48-yard field goal to put the Giants ahead 17-5 with 9:50 left in the fourth quarter.

Wilson hit running back Chris Carson for a 28-yard touchdown with 6:09 remaining to make it 17-12, and the Seahawks got the ball back with 1:48 left. After Williams sacked Wilson with 48 seconds left to set up a fourth-and-18 from the 46, Wilson threw a deep pass that was batted down by James Bradberry and others to seal the victory.

"Just don’t let ‘em catch it," Peppers said of that desperation pass.

They didn’t. And now it’s up to the rest of the NFC East to try to catch the Giants.

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