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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It's easy to find fault with the New York Giants' three-game winning streak.
After all, who have they beaten?
It started with Josh Freeman in his first start with the struggling Minnesota Vikings. Next came a banged up Michael Vick and his rookie replacement in a win over Philadelphia. And now after a bye week, they had to get a big interception from Terrell Thomas and a go-ahead 1-yard touchdown run by fellow comebacker Andre Brown to beat an injured Terrell Pryor and the Oakland Raiders 24-20 on Sunday.
It's not a big deal, until you take a look at the NFC East standings.
After an 0-6 start to the season, the Giants (3-6) are suddenly only 1½ games behind Dallas and Philadelphia in the division, and only one back in the lost column. The Cowboys were beaten 49-17 by New Orleans and the Eagles defeated Green Bay, which was playing without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
To make things more interesting, New York faces Green Bay at MetLife Stadium next Sunday. Philadelphia will host Washington (3-6). Dallas has a bye week.
Thomas, whose 65-yard interception return gave Brown a touchdown to go along with his 115-yard rushing effort in his first game of the season, insisted the Giants aren't back in the race yet.
"We're 3-6," said Thomas, who missed the last two seasons with major knee injuries. "What are we, 1-2 in the division? We have some work to do. We're just happy we're playing Giants football again and we're giving ourselves the opportunity. We have a big game with Green Bay next week. We're taking it one game at a time."
The Giants were ugly in winning this one. They gave the Raiders 17 first-half points with three turnovers, including a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tracy Porter late in the first half for a 17-14 lead.
It seemed to take the air out of the Giants, and the Raiders had a chance to take command early in the third quarter, getting a first-and goal at the New York 1. A run for no gain, an incompletion and a second incompletion after a procedure penalty forced them to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski and a 20-14 lead.
Pryor had Oakland (3-6) in position to increase the lead later in the quarter following a short punt, but Thomas read a slant pass and made the biggest play of the game for the defense, which limited Oakland to 213 yards in total offense.
Pryor could spend the flight home wondering what might have been.
"That's the easiest to say, but it's time to stop going to that," he said. "We could have got it done. Easily. Even if not easily, we could have gotten it done. Mistakes, myself, punt block, things like that, on the road especially, it can come back and haunt you, and it did today."
Five things to know after the Giants moved within 1½ games of first place in the NFC East:
DEFENSE WINS TITLES: The Giants' defense did not give up a touchdown in the last two games and the only one they surrendered to the Raiders came on a two-play, 5-yard drive after Jerrel Jernigan fumbled the opening kickoff. Janikowski's first field goal came after running back Peyton Hillis fumbled at his 21. The second came after a 74-yard drive. If the unit keeps playing like this, the Giants have a chance.
EAST COAST STREAK CONTINUES: The Raiders have lost 12 straight games in the Eastern time zone since beating Pittsburgh in December 2009. They are now 0-3 against the NFC East this season, with a game at Dallas on Thanksgiving.
ELI ERRORS: Eli Manning still looks lost at times. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 140 yards and a 5-yard touchdown to Rueben Randle. He also threw his third pick six of the season before halftime, and this one was baffling. Under a little pressure he underthrew Victor Cruz in front of the Raiders' bench and Porter could have walked to the end zone for his score. It was Mannings' 16th interception.
RAIDERS DEFENSE: A week after giving up an NFL-record tying seven touchdown passes to Nick Foles of the Eagles, the Raiders defense limited the Giants to 251 yards, scored a touchdown and recovered a fumble that set up a field goal. It was a good bounce back, but not good enough. The negative was at the end of the game. The unit allowed New York to get two first downs and run out the final 3:21.
ANDRE BROWN: Can't say enough about Brown for his perseverance. After breaking his left leg in the preseason finale for the second time in nine months, he made his debut for the season and carried 30 times for 115 yards and caught a pass.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org