EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants aren't giving back any wins just because they weren't pretty. They are on a three-game winning streak they needed very badly, and they don't care whether it's because they're facing third-string quarterbacks or that the defense is carrying them. Wins are wins, and the Giants pretty much need to win every game they play for the rest of the year.
That said, it's cause for at least some concern Eli Manning and the passing game haven't come along for this ride of resurgence. Manning has completed an even 60 of 100 passes during the three-game winning streak, averaging 195.3 yards per game passing and throwing only two touchdown passes during that time. He didn't throw any interceptions during the first two games of the streak, but he had one returned for a touchdown Sunday against the Raiders and continues to lead the league with 16.
Manning is 31st in the NFL right now in passer rating, 21st in touchdown passes, 30th in completion percentage and 29th in Total QBR. By no measure, including his 3-6 record, is he having anything resembling a decent season. But he does believe it's getting better.
"I think we're doing some better things," Manning said after Wednesday's practice. "We're not making as many mistakes, so we're getting in better position to do some better things, make some plays and score some touchdowns. Now it's just a matter of executing a little bit better. But I think we're very close, and I think we know that."
If the Giants' dream of fighting their way back into playoff contention after starting the season 0-6 is to become reality, the offense had better be close. The schedule toughens up significantly from here on out. Even if you count this Sunday as an easy one against the Packers because Aaron Rodgers is hurt, and even if you figure the Giants will beat a shredded Dallas defense at home next week (neither is a sure thing, by the way), the December schedule will require Manning to be at his best. Road games against the Redskins, Chargers and Lions and home games against the Seahawks and Redskins mean the defense is going to have a harder time keeping points off the board, and that the offense is going to have to do a better job putting them on it.
"They'll figure it out," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "People ask me all the time if I'm worried about Eli, and I am not. I'm really not. As a defensive player, we just worry about what we can control and supporting them the way they've supported us so many times over the years."
The defense is playing with a lot of confidence right now. The Giants' offense, by contrast, almost appears to be playing not to make mistakes. The turnovers are down in the last three games, but the big-play passing game hasn't returned. Manning said he doesn't feel as though he's out there consciously trying to limit mistakes -- he just believes the overall circumstances of the offense have improved and will continue to do so.
"Not as many negative runs, is one thing," Manning said. "In the first half of the season, we would run the ball and lose two yards and just kind of get out of rhythm right there. When you're in second-and-12, second-and-14, it takes you out of your game plan a little bit. You'd rather get in second-and-sixes, sevens, where you can run the ball still and you can also throw it."
Gradual improvement around him is important and to be expected. But at some point, if the Giants are going to play the way they've played in the best days of their recent past, Manning is going to have to start consistently making those confident downfield throws to his wideouts and open up the big-play possibilities for the offense. If he can't do that, they're going to be overmatched in December, and the mini-awakening of late October and early November is going to be nothing more than a footnote.
Much work still remains for these Giants, who can't possibly even reach the .500 mark until Dec. 1 at the earliest. But all of the nitty-gritty improvements won't amount to anything if the most important player on their team doesn't start to play like his old self.