EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two weeks after being written off following a miserable 2009 and an early two-game losing streak, the New York Giants are rolling again.
The smiles are back in the locker room. Players are working on days off. All three phases of the game are playing well, and feeding off each other.
Running back Brandon Jacobs is even happy being a backup.
It's amazing what a couple of one-sided wins have done for Tom Coughlin's team.
"Isn't that life in general?" defensive end Dave Tollefson said Monday. "It's the ebb and flow of a season. There was an early storm, for sure. We got our early hurricane, in hurricane season, but with the guys in this locker room we've been around too long to turn on the freak-out mode. We knew the only way we were going to fix it was out on that field, and I feel as a team, and as a group of men, we're happy. We're playing for each other and things are going well."
The Giants (3-2) fashioned their first winning streak since early last season when they embarrassed Houston 34-10 on Sunday behind three touchdown passes by Eli Manning and another superb defensive effort by coordinator Perry Fewell's unit.
A week after recording 10 sacks in a win over the Chicago Bears, the defense limited the NFL's top rushing team — the Texans had a 172-yard average — to a franchise-low 24 yards.
The two performances have the Giants ranked No. 1 in the league on defense, not bad for a group that gave up 85 points in its last two games last season, prompting the firing of then-coordinator Bill Sheridan.
Antrel Rolle, one of three major offseason signings along with fellow safety Deon Grant and linebacker Keith Bulluck, credited the unit's play to talent, preparation, hard work, discipline and players finally having fun when things come together.
"We understand what we are as a defense," Rolle said. "We understand our strengths and weaknesses and coach has been doing a great job of putting his best players in the best situations to make plays. It's a team effort. If you look at the game film it all domino effects. We are just going out and playing good hard-nosed football."
Manning and the offense also made a big contribution for the first time. It gained 414 yards, controlled the clock for almost 39 minutes and scored 34 points, with receiver Hakeem Nicks catching a career-high 12 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
"It was like our backs were up against the wall," Boss said. "It was that type of mentality and we thrive on that atmosphere."
Left tackle David Diehl said it was easy to see why the Giants opened 1-2. They turned the ball over, were called for undisciplined penalties and made mental mistakes in consecutive one-sided losses against Indianapolis and Tennessee that had Giants' career leading rusher Tiki Barber speculating that Coughlin was losing control of the team.
All that has changed after two near-perfect performances.
"We've played with an attitude and determination that we're going to do our best job," Diehl said. "Two, I think you see a team coming together as a team, offense, defense, special teams. We're all rallying off one another. You can see the excitement and emotion the way we are playing."
Defensive tackle Chris Canty expects much more, too, noting the Giants made a ton of mistakes on Sunday.
"We've got to improve," Canty said. "That's not us. That's not our best football. We have not played our best football yet. We are still coming together as a team, all three phases. We are going to continue to work at it and continue to try to improve every day."
That includes Tuesday, Canty said. It's the players' day off, but Canty said almost everyone will be at the team's headquarters.
"Your opponent is working on Tuesdays, the days you are laying up and taking off," Canty said. "So you don't want to be put in a situation where someone has outworked you in the preparation and gives themselves a better opportunity to be successful on Sunday."
Even Jacobs is buying into the system, mere weeks after voicing his displeasure about losing his starting job to Ahmad Bradshaw. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and had a solid game on Sunday, gaining 41 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown.
"It means a lot to me to know they still have confidence in me, that I can get it done," Jacobs said Monday. "I know I can get it done. I don't mind watching Ahmad running, him turning 4 yards out of something that was supposed to be nothing. I can't do that. He is just so pin-ballish, he can do that. I can't. When I get in there I just try to run over somebody and get some yards. That's what I do."
Coughlin senses a difference in his team after the opening weeks.
"I think one of the things, and I'm hoping it continues, is that as a whole we have learned to accept the 'we' instead of 'me,' and they've accepted that challenge," he said. "Adversity makes you stronger, and we have fought through that."