EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) The New York Giants' horrible start to the season is a distant memory.

Wins over Washington and Buffalo have not only gotten the Giants back to the .500 mark, they find themselves tied for first in the NFC East after a couple of losses by Dallas.

As Tom Coughlin says, the Giants are relevant again, something missing in recent years after falling short of the playoffs three straight seasons.

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What's even more exciting is the schedule the next five weeks. They face San Francisco (1-3), Philadelphia (1-3), Dallas (2-2) and without Tony Romo, New Orleans (1-3) and Tampa Bay (1-3).

Suddenly things are looking up after an 0-2 start lowlighted by blowing two double-digit, fourth-quarter leads.

''We never took ourselves out of the race,'' second-year center Weston Richburg said. ''It's just a testament to how hard we work and we just kept going last night. It was cool to see. It was a great win for us and now we've just got to keep confident.''

Much of the credit for the Giants' success has to go to Coughlin. He never got down on his team after two heartbreaking losses in the closing minutes of games it should have won.

Linebacker Jon Beason said Coughlin has been consistent. He has pointed out all the good things the team did in losing the first two games, and reminded the players it was little mistakes that were costing them games.

Beason also noted Coughlin seemed more determined after the poor start.

''I would say he's come in with more energy, more enthusiasm, and a guy who's 69 years old,'' Beason said. ''He comes in, he's doing jumping jacks in the meetings, it's always a joy to see how much he loves to do what he does, and how much of a competitor he is. It's easy to get up and go out and fight for a guy like that.''

Coughlin doesn't believe he raised his energy level. Losing was something he didn't enjoy, of course.

''But I do know that it puts a fire in our belly without a doubt to be 0-2, and I didn't think we were an 0-2 team,'' Coughlin said. ''We needed to do something about it. So we tried to inspire our guys to believe in themselves and come together as a team, to play the four quarters. Forget about the score and play each play as hard as you possibly can, and don't let any of the circumstances get into your head.''

The Giants have done that the past two games, taking leads and finding ways to hold on.

A quarter of the way into the regular season, there are only four NFC teams with records better than 2-2: Green Bay, Carolina and Atlanta are 4-0, and Arizona is 3-1.

Coughlin said being relevant is just the first step.

''I chose that word to make them understand it's a word that puts you in position, but you're not there,'' he said. ''You've got a long way to go and that's the significance of that term.''

The Giants have to like some of the things that have emerged this season. The run defense has been outstanding, limiting the Bills to 55 yards, almost 100 yards less than their average heading into the game.

New York's run game picked up 92 yards against one of the NFL's top front lines and only allowed Eli Manning to be sacked once.

So two weeks after a horrible start, the Giants are tied for first in the NFC East with Dallas and Washington.

''It's still too early to say anybody is the favorite, which is a good thing,'' Beason said. ''You start off 0-2, it's tough to stay in the race, especially when you lose a divisional game, but we're just excited to win this game. And now all the focus is on the 49ers.''

NOTES: Coughlin had no update on LB Devon Kennard's injured hamstring. He had an interception Sunday. ... TE Daniel Fells is being placed on injured reserve with a staph infection. ... Coughlin had no update when DE Jason Pierre-Paul might be ready to play this season. He injured his hand in a fireworks accident in July. ... The coach did not know if WR Victor Cruz showed any improvement over the weekend after aggravating a calf injury.

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