Wake-up call: Defense has provoked a Giant turnaround

We pretty much could start this column off each week with a discussion about the excellence of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

We won't do that this time, even if Brady and the Pats continue to outdo themselves on a weekly basis.

No, for a change, we'll talk about a different red-hot team that doesn't even play in the AFC.

How about those New York Giants?

They pounded the San Francisco 49ers, 33-15, in Week 7 for their fifth consecutive victory. That ties them with the Indianapolis Colts for the second-longest winning streak in the league.

The Giants primarily won this game the way they won their previous four -- with a dominant defense. Through the first two weeks of the season, this unit looked as if it couldn't stop anyone. Now, it looks scary. The Giants had six sacks, giving them 27 for the season (five shy of their 2006 total) and 25 in their last five games. In registering his eighth sack of the year (to give him a share of the league lead), Osi Umenyiora stripped Trent Dilfer and took the fumble 75 yards for a touchdown.

Tiki Barber's retirement was supposed to have left the Giants without much of a running game. But now they have multiple running backs who alternately give the team a strong ground attack. Against the 49ers it was Brandon Jacobs, who ran for 107 yards and a touchdown. It could be argued that between Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Reuben Droughns, the Giants actually have upgraded their ability to run the ball.

Eli Manning might not be putting up the gaudy numbers that Brady is producing, but he is doing a nice job of getting the ball in the hands of his dynamic playmakers. He threw for a pair of touchdowns against the 49ers.

Credit Tom Coughlin for guiding the Giants to a 5-2 start that puts them among the very best teams in the NFC. For that matter, they could even be favorably compared to some of the better clubs in the supposedly superior AFC.

Coughlin has taken plenty of criticism (most notably from Barber) for being too rigid with his coaching style. He was thought to reside on one of the hotter seats in the league. Now, he will receive consideration for Coach of the Year honors.

The NFC beasts

So which is the best conference in the NFL?

The AFC South would likely draw plenty of votes. The 5-0 Indianapolis Colts are widely viewed as the second-best team in the league, but they have some strong challengers in their division: The 4-1 Jacksonville Jaguars (whom the Colts face on Monday Night Football), the 4-2 Tennessee Titans, and even the 3-4 Houston Texans.

However, the NFC East is certainly worthy of strong consideration. You know about the Giants. At 6-1, the Dallas Cowboys have put themselves atop the conference, thanks largely to the strong defense that Wade Phillips has put together. The Cowboys have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, and sensational Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson (63 yards) was no exception in a 24-14 win over the Vikings. Tony Romo makes big plays with his arm, and he has help from a solid running game. The 4-2 Washington Redskins, who had three takeaways in their 21-19 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals, are playing well enough defensively to be competitive in every game.

Speaking of competitive ...

It would be a stretch to say it is as good as the NFC East or AFC South, but the NFC North certainly merits some recognition.

The 5-1 Green Bay Packers, who had a Week 7 bye, lead the way with Brett Favre's passing arm and an impressive defense. But they aren't the only club in the division that command attention.

The 4-2 Detroit Lions, with their explosive passing game, have been intriguing for most of the season. They've suffered a couple of lopsided losses, but they took an important step forward in Week 7 by knocking off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-16.

Perhaps the 3-4 Chicago Bears have finally gotten regrouped with Brian Griese at quarterback. The transition from Rex Grossman to Griese, who took over as the starter in Week 4, had not gone so smoothly. Griese did have some nice flashes of brilliance.

But in Week 7, he seemingly locked down the starting job and gained the confidence of his teammates by leading a 97-yard drive, capped by his 15-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad with 9 seconds left to give the Bears a 19-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. That play could very well have saved Chicago's season. Besides deftly leading the Bears to his scoring throw with no timeouts and with a malfunctioning audio receiver in his helmet that prevented him from hearing plays from the sideline, Griese finished with 322 passing yards … and he had no turnovers.

Other upsets

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 28: The Broncos were clearly tired of hearing about what a poor run defense they had. They made the Steelers' offense one-dimensional early on by keeping Pittsburgh's dominant rushing attack mostly intact (Willie Parker was held to under 100 yards). Consequently, they were able to pressure the daylights out of Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked four times and fumbled. Before staging a spirited second-half rally, the Steelers seemed to be going through the motions. Apparently, they bought too heavily into the notion that they were supposed to be the better team and would be able to run all over the Broncos.

Kansas City 12, Oakland 10: The Chiefs have made quite a turnaround. Herman Edwards has his defense playing well. Example: The Chiefs held the league's No. 3 rushing attack to 55 yards, safety Jarred Page intercepted Daunte Culpepper to kill an opportunity for the Raiders to score the winning points, and Jared Allen had two sacks (giving him eight for the season and tying him for the league lead, despite serving a suspension the first two games). After a slow start to the season, running back Larry Johnson is returning to form; he ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. That was Johnson's third 100-yard performance in four games.

Buffalo 19, Baltimore 14: The Bills came dangerously close to suffering another heartbreaking, last-second loss. Rookie quarterback Trent Edwards threw a fourth-quarter interception that led to a Ravens' touchdown. Buffalo's offense continued a season-long theme of being unable to get much going on the ground or through the air (most of its points came from four Rian Lindell field goals), but its defense held up well enough to prevent the Ravens from doing much damage with an offense missing several key starters, including Steve McNair (Kyle Boller started in McNair's place).

Tired foot

Rob Bironas kicked an NFL-record eight field goals (including the game-winner as time expired) in the Tennessee Titans' 38-36 victory over the Houston Texans. That, by itself, was impressive, especially considering the frequency with which Bironas has been cut and re-signed.

But an even bigger story was how the Titans were able to win with their backup quarterback, Kerry Collins, starting in place of injured Vince Young. This is the kind of victory that can make a huge difference in the Titans' season. Instead of folding without the exceptionally talented Young, they were able to count on others, including running back LenDale White (104 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries) to get the job done.

OK, we'll mention him/them

I can't write a column highlighting Week 7 without mentioning the fact that Brady threw for six touchdowns to lead the Patriots to a 49-28 pummeling of the Miami Dolphins. But I wonder what was more impressive -- the six scoring throws or the fact he only had four incompletions among 25 pass attempts? Right, the six TDs.

Still, Brady is making it difficult to find adjectives to describe his play. Suffice it to say that for the better part of seven weeks, he has performed better than any quarterback I have witnessed in NFL history. Does that adequately paint the picture?

Bizarre rule that most of us didn't know

Here was the situation: Early in the fourth quarter of the Bears-Eagles game. Bears ball, first-and-10 from the 50. Brian Griese has his hands under center Olin Kreutz. The snap rolls through Griese's legs, never touching his hands or any other part of his body. The ruling: False start on the Bears. Not a fumble, but a 5-yard penalty. Now if Griese had touched the ball, it would have been a fumble.

But here's the crazy part. If Griese had been in shotgun formation and the snap sailed past him without him ever touching it, it would be a free ball for either team to recover.

Have a question for Vic on anything NFL related? Don't just sit there -- send it to AskVic@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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