The New York Giants won an NFL game Monday night for the first time in almost 10 months and only the fourth time in 15 games dating back to last October, but it doesn't matter because they've already lost the war.
Select Giants fans are surely clinging to hope, and that's fine because I guess that's what fans are supposed to do. And yes, the G-Men are still only three games out of a playoff spot (and the NFC East lead) with nine games to play.
Those fans might point to last year's division winner, the Washington Redskins, who came back from the exact same three-game hole with only seven games remaining. They're more than familiar, because it was this very Giants team (or at least a much stronger version of it) that blew that lead to Washington down the stretch.
The problem, though, is that a 23-7 home victory over the Minnesota Vikings doesn't carry a lot of weight right now. A win's a win when it comes to technicalities, but not when it comes to forecasting.
|Worst single-game completion percentages of 2013|
|Josh Freeman||Monday night||37.7|
|Jeff Tuel||Week 5||40.0|
|Min. 20 attempts (via NFL Network)|
"Right now, this feels like a preseason game," remarked ESPN play-by-play man Mike Tirico in the fourth quarter, "not a two-score game." That's because the Vikings were—and are—a terrible football team.
Even very bad teams like the Giants are supposed to take care of teams like the Vikings, who were starting a quarterback they signed only 15 days ago. Despite that and the presence of reigning NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson, the Vikings embarrassed their new quarterback by running 53 pass plays and only 14 run plays.
It was so bad that, down two scores with a couple minutes to play, Vikes head coach Leslie Frazier didn't even bother calling timeouts on defense. New York's opponent was crying uncle from the get-go. I'm half-surprised they didn't pull a Grambling State and refuse to get on the plane.
"It's not like the Giants walk out of here feeling like they played great," added Tirico in the dying minutes, over shots of unimpressed veterans clad in blue.
A Tom Coughlin-coached team knows better than to celebrate with glee after a victory like this, especially when it's win No. 1. Still, I believe they'd have been a lot more fired up if this wasn't such a sloppy victory.
OK, the defense pitched a shutout, which means something regardless of how out-of-sync your opponent is. Peterson was bottled up in his limited number of reps, and they actually got a little bit of pressure for a change.
But one of the league's worst special-teams units was once again horrendous, surrendering a touchdown on a punt return and fumbling on another.
The offense was also forced to punt nine times. The Vikings turned it over three times, but they could only capitalize with two touchdowns and a trio of field goals. They found the end zone only once on four red-zone possessions, and that one started on the Minnesota 3-yard line after a Vikings fumble.
As a result, this was somehow a close game until the Vikings started shooting themselves in the foot down the stretch. In fact, the Giants probably should have fallen behind when quarterback Eli Manning threw what should have been a pick-six right into Marcus Sherels' gut in the third quarter. Sherels dropped it.
You can't control whom you play, and the Giants still won this game handily, but the performance still left too much to be desired, and I still believe it was too little, too late.
The players still have hope, though, as Justin Tuck told the Associated Press (via ESPN) after the game, "Hopefully, tonight is something we can build off...this was something that we could get the ball rolling."
The problem is that they're already 0-2 within the division; the Cowboys are 3-0. And the schedule doesn't get any easier. They have to go to Philadelphia now before the bye, and tough matchups with Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas and Washington (twice) loom on the second-half schedule.
The reality is that this is still a team in shambles. The pass rush still isn't there, Manning's chemistry with his receivers is still lacking and the running game is one of the league's worst. That offensive line is problematic, and it'd be foolish to believe that a defense with that many holes is back on track based solely on this result.
The Giants were just in the right place at the right time Monday night, which I suppose is nice. It means they won't make 2008 Lions-style history with a 16-loss campaign. It means there are indeed teams out there that are worse than them.
But that's as far as you should read into this.
Going forward, as backwards as it feels, Giants fans should embrace the fact that the 2013 version of this team isn't very good, focusing instead on individual performances and progress that can be made between now and the offseason. Don't start believing this team has some sort of magical 2007-style run in it, because it doesn't.
The next time the Giants will be relevant, they'll be on the clock with a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.