Giants improved, but in the hunt? Get real

PHILADELPHIA -- There is a fantasy and a reality about the current state of the New York Giants' season. The fantasy was getting its fuel from a back room in the visitors locker room at Lincoln Financial Field in the moments that followed the Giants' 15-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

As the team dressed and headed for the buses, a small group of players was watching the division-leading Dallas Cowboys fall to 4-4 with a last-minute loss to the Detroit Lions. There was some hooting and cheering, but it was subdued, because the reality is that this isn't December and the Giants' record is still a miserable 2-6. To their credit, the Giants continue to seem rooted in the reality.

"The only time that will mean something is if we go on an eight-game win streak after the bye and end up 10-6," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said of the Dallas result and the NFC East standings. "We've got to put the blinders on. We're in a hole. We've still got a long way to go. We can't worry about what Dallas does or what anybody does."

That's reality, and these Giants are extremely good at staying grounded in it. When they were 0-2 and 0-4 and 0-6, they were always the same -- unfailingly professional and focused on the game at hand. Now that they've won two in a row and are 2-6, they're not going to change that about themselves. It's what sustains them.

"The one thing I understand about being a New York Giant is you have to be even-keel through the great days and the bad days," Tuck said.

To that end, there is some positive reality to the current state of the Giants' season. The defense is playing extremely well. You can argue that the past two games have been against teams with astoundingly bad quarterback situations and that things will look different once the Giants start playing the Green Bays and Seattles and Detroits on their second-half schedule. But you can't win tomorrow's game today, and the reality is that the Giants have done a lot of things well the past two weeks against the Vikings and the Eagles.

After an Oct. 10 loss in Chicago dropped them to 0-6, the Giants' defensive players met with their coaches to discuss some new ideas. Players said Sunday that the meeting was an open and frank one in which players offered suggestions about everything from changing coverages to simplifying the pass rush. They all seem to agree it has helped.

"Just getting together and getting on the same page," safety Antrel Rolle said. "A lot of speaking to each other as men. Players trusting coaches, coaches trusting players. And I think that has showed up in our performance."

The reality is a four-sack Sunday by a team that had only six sacks all season coming in. Three turnovers forced. LeSean McCoy, the league's leading rusher, held to 48 yards on 15 carries.

The reality is the impact of middle linebacker Jon Beason, who came over in an early-October trade with the Panthers and has rapidly emerged as a leader and star at a critical position they'd been overlooking. It is a reality that the Giants' defense has not allowed a point since the Chicago game, and that Eli Manning hasn't thrown an interception since that game, either. The reality is that the Giants are playing much better now than they were when they were losing their first six games.

"This definitely is a huge boost to their confidence," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It reinforces what we are doing, obviously. And then two wins in a row, we're happy to have that."

That's the extent of the current reality, and make no mistake. You are welcome to look at the standings, see the Cowboys only two games in front and make your own hopeful assumptions about what might be if the Giants continue to play well and no one in the division can keep themselves above .500. But that's all still fantasy.

The Giants are still a last-place team with a half-season to go and major problems on the offensive line, among other places. They're still a sloppy team that commits too many penalties and doesn't make enough big plays on offense. And while you can argue that the division is lousy this year, everybody in it is still ahead of them in the standings. That's reality.

But there's nothing wrong with a little fantasy as a means of sustenance in tough times. The Giants have played much better the last two weeks, and their reward is a pair of wins and an improved sense of confidence and self-worth. And when you have that, it's a lot more fun to mix in a little fantasy every now and then.