Let's talk about what's true and what's not true about the New York Giants. It's not true, as they and their fans would like us to believe, that no one respects them. They talk up that angle as a means for motivation and it works for them, so they'll keep doing it, but it's not true. Teams and players and even fans respect winners in this league, and the Giants are Super Bowl champions -- the ultimate example of a team that wins the only games we're told are important, even if they lose a few more than they'd like to lose along the way.
It's also not true that the Giants don't like to talk. They talk all the time, as a matter of fact. They talk about how no one respects them. They talk about proving people wrong. Just last week, their offensive coordinator talked about one of the 49ers' best players as a guy who gets away with holding and their running back suggested he could repeat his 200-yard rushing performance from the week before. They talk plenty. They just have a really good recent track record of backing up their talk.
Which brings us to what is true about the Giants, which is that they can be -- and deserve to be discussed as -- one of the best teams in the entire league. Sunday's 26-3 victory over the 49ers in San Francisco was as impressive a performance as any team in the NFL has delivered so far this year, given the venue and the opponent. They smothered the 49ers on defense. They ran it down their throats on offense. They took the ball away from them and didn't give it back. They were tough and physical and dominating, and you couldn't have watched that game and failed to realize you were watching a legitimately excellent team.
Plenty of people, myself included, picked the 49ers to win the game. But just because you don't pick a team to win doesn't mean you don't respect them or don't give them a chance. If you honestly didn't think the Giants had a chance to win the game Sunday, you are justified in feeling utterly foolish this morning. These Giants have run the ball better in recent weeks than they have at any point in the past two seasons. The offensive line, which was their biggest question mark coming into the season, has looked powerful since Will Beatty returned to left tackle. The defensive line has been a sleeping giant (no pun intended) all year, and this was exactly the kind of game in which you'd expect guys like Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka to spring to life. And they still have Eli Manning at quarterback, which means they have a chance every week.
But what's true about the Giants goes beyond their having a weekly chance. The Giants look as though they're a better team than the one that won the Super Bowl last year. They have all of the same stuff going for them that they had last season, and they appear to be improving in the areas in which they struggled. They are 4-2 in spite of a rash of key injuries on both sides of the ball, and next Sunday's game against the Redskins, with the Eagles off and the Cowboys struggling, gives them a chance to take control of the division race as the season's halfway point nears.
It will be pointed out that Sunday's was the Giants' first win this year against a quality opponent, and that they are 0-2 against teams in that division of which they seek control. These things are true, and there's no reason to think things won't get tough again at some point this year for the Giants. As good as they looked Sunday, we all know they're capable of laying an egg next week against the Redskins, who beat them twice last year without a real quarterback and now feature one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league. The Giants are one of the best teams in the league when they play the game as physically as they did Sunday, but their issue is that they don't play that way every week. They go in and out. They can occasionally play "down" to a lesser opponent the way they played "up" to the 49ers. It is a pattern or bad habit or whatever you want to call it, and it's been established over the past several years. This is in no way intended to assert that they are over it.
But the takeaway from Sunday is that the Giants are a very good football team, capable of badly beating any team on any field in any given week. You don't go in and hammer a team like the 49ers if you're not. The Giants know they're good, and trust me, the rest of the league does too. Their challenge over the final 10 games of the season will be to keep proving it every week. They quite obviously have it in them to do just that.