New York Giants get big win, but still searching for identity

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The impulse is to look for a statement in the New York Giants' 28-23 victory over the Eagles on Sunday, and maybe there is one to be gleaned in Doug Pederson's decision to twice forego field-goal tries on fourth down (he said he wanted to be aggressive) and to attempt to summon the ghosts of Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick in sending rookie quarterback Carson Wentz on repeated option runs (some were good choices, Pederson said, some not).

But the search for a unifying theme for the Giants has to wait another week. Their victory was badly needed. They hadn't beaten the Eagles since 2013 and have only recently emerged from the firestorm surrounding their former kicker Josh Brown. But it didn't really tell you much about the trajectory of the season except for this: the Giants are 5-3, have won three games in a row, are keeping pace with the runaway Dallas Cowboys and finally seem to be learning to hold on to win the close games that crushed them last season.

"Obviously, the defense, we put them in a situation where they've had to make some plays and obviously we had the lead so it's good," Eli Manning said. "But offensively, we've made some nice plays also in games and scoring points and making drives to win. We're finding ways to win, and that's what good teams have to do. It's not always perfect, there's things you can clean up for sure, but you come into the fourth quarter, you have to find ways to win the tough games, the close games and that's what we're doing."

Next Monday night, when the Giantshost the Bengals, they will put former coach Tom Coughlin, defensive lineman Justin Tuck and general manager Ernie Accorsi into their Ring of Honor. They are three pillars of the Giants teams that won their two most recent Super Bowls, but they are also a reminder of what is gone and how this team has changed. Those two championship teams were won largely on the backs of a ferocious pass rush, and the Giants have been in desperate search of one ever since those teams were slowly dismantled.

Since then, Manning has been the sole barometer for the Giants -- they go as he goes -- and the takeaway from this season for him has been uneven. He completed passes Sunday to eight different receivers for 257 yards and four touchdowns against a defense that had allowed the fourth fewest points in the league entering the game. Both of his interceptions were of the type he labels "cheap" -- one on a tipped ball, one when Odell Beckham Jr. was stripped of the ball before he fully had possession.

Now, Manning and the Giants have the defensive pieces they did not have last season -- witness the streakiness of a two-game win streak to start the 2016 campaign, followed by a three-game losing streak, followed by another three-game winning streak -- but simply cannot run the ball. The Giants' 14-0 lead was built on twointerceptions of Carson Wentz, and the cushion was preserved when the defense held on two second quarter fourth-down tries and on the Eagles' final possession, when the Giants forced four straight incomplete passes.

"A fourth-down stop is a turnover," said linebacker Jonathan Casillas.

Wentz is a rookie and perhaps the Giants benefitted from having a half-season's worth of tape before they had to face him. But the reality is that this outcome would have been unexpected last season, when the Giants blew six fourth-quarter leads and failed to pressure a quarterback in a critical situation. The Giants still give up far too many big pass plays -- there were catches of 30, 32, 33 and 58 yards for the Eagles -- but they also confused Wentz, whose preternatural early-season poise was gone Sunday, when he repeatedly looked as if he had no idea where to go with the ball or where he was on the field.

"Once you take away the running game, you send missiles from everywhere," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "We rattled him a little bit."

The Eagles are 0-3 in the NFC East, and while the Giants are still two games behind the Cowboys in the standings, they helped bury a division opponent Sunday with a brand of complementary football that doesn't make statements, but does make for better results. Those, too, are the kinds of victories that eluded the Giants in 2015.

"Last year is in the rearview mirror," Coach Ben McAdoo said. "You go back, you learn from the past and you work on today. We believe that we are going to win these football games. We believe that we're a physical team. We've just got to hang onto leads and win the games. We know we're going to get better as the game goes on and we're going to win in the end."

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