EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The narrative intrudes from the outside, breathlessly, from week to week. Players in NFL locker rooms face cameras and notebooks wielded by people in need of comment on whatever latest turn the story has taken. This week with the New York Giants, who have won three straight games after an 0-6 start to push their way onto the fringe of one of the worst division races in sports history, the story is supposed to be "They're in it!"
But the Giants themselves don't seem all interested in playing along.
"I wouldn't say, necessarily, that we're back in it," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said Monday afternoon. "We're taking steps. We're building. We have some wins and we have some momentum going, but there's still a long way to go to the point where we feel like we're right back there, or tied, or something like that. We can't get too caught up in that."
This is one of the great strengths of the Giants' locker room: Walking in there Monday, nothing felt different than it did when the team was 0-4, 0-5 or 0-6. Throughout the losing streak, the Giants maintained professionalism and perspective, never ducking reporters or shouting at us or venting their frustration in any obvious way. So it's little surprise that they're handling their sudden prosperity with the exact same attitude and demeanor. It says a great deal about their head coach, who was asked Monday what he thought about his players' cool reluctance to engage in the we're-still-in-this-thing storyline.
"It's smart," Tom Coughlin said. "It's one game at a time. Obviously, you keep your dreams alive, but you focus on the task at hand. And we've got enough things that have to improve on our team than to worry about that right now."
In truth, the Giants have not played especially well during their current win streak. Eli Manning and the offense are way out of sync, and the special teams are a complete nightmare. The defense has been excellent, allowing just one short-field touchdown over the past 14 quarters, but while praise is justified, it has to come with a disclaimer about the level of competition they've faced and whether they can perform as well in December against the Seahawks, Lions and Chargers as they have against the Raiders and the unprepared backup quarterbacks of the Vikings and Eagles.
The good thing for the Giants is that they get that. They understand exactly where they are -- and where they are not -- in the NFL picture right now. Yes, they can look at the standings and see that the two teams tied for first place in their division are only 5-5. But those same standings remind them that they are not one of those two teams. Though their next two games are at home against the Scott Tolzien Packers and a Dallas Cowboys team that right now doesn't have 11 healthy NFL-quality defensive players, they're not concerning themselves with the problems of their opponents.
"We're 3-6," safety Antrel Rolle said. "We're in no way, shape or form in position to underestimate anyone. We know exactly who we have ahead of us. I think they have something they haven't had there in a long time, and that's a running game. We're looking forward to playing those guys."
The focus for the Giants this week is not the standings, but the Packers. Just as, when they were losing every week, the focus was not on the standings, but on the next week's opponent. There's nothing they can do this week about the Cowboys or the Eagles or the Redskins, and so they put that out of their minds and do their work, just as they have every week this season, whether things were going well or not.
"This is a pretty serious bunch, and they were like that today," Coughlin said. "Mondays have been serious and fairly quiet, to be honest with you. They're well aware, as I told them yesterday, that the reason for the outcome was because we believed. We kept believing. And that's a process."
The Giants' belief in themselves isn't new and it isn't the result of their win streak. It's the same belief they kept while it was being challenged and battered throughout those miserable first six weeks of the season. It comes from the top, and from a veteran coach who knows that preaching focus and simplicity works with this team, and continues to preach it while the players continue to buy in.
There's no way to know at this point how this season will end up for the Giants. The odds they face continue to be extremely long. They need to win five of their final seven games just to finish .500, which is unlikely to get them into the playoff field. But all of that is for us to discuss among ourselves. The Giants are happy to let us do it. You'll just have to excuse them if they don't want to join in.