EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Following a dismal loss to the Seahawks, Tom Coughlin saw how quiet his team and the practice facility was last Monday.
The New York Giants head coach implored his players to be leaders, to inspire their teammates and pick each other up.
"It was about positive energy," Coughlin said.
Ahmad Bradshaw clearly heard his head coach. In a game the Giants had to have going into their bye week, Bradshaw collected his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and scored a career-high three rushing touchdowns to lift the Giants to a much-needed 27-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
After their 36-25 loss to the Seahawks the week before, the Giants' margin for error is slimmer this season. A loss to a much-improved Bills team would have been devastating because the Giants still have to play a brutal stretch of games in November and December that includes New England, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay and Dallas.
That's why this victory was critical for a Giants team that missed the playoffs despite winning 10 games last year.
Going into the game, the Giants (4-2) had several goals but two major ones were to establish the run and stop the run.
They certainly accomplished one as Bradshaw rushed for 104 yards and took advantage of a Buffalo defense that had surrendered an average of 138 rushing yards per game.
"Every play they call, my heart is all in it every down, every play," said Bradshaw, who carried the ball 26 times with Brandon Jacobs out.
While the running game might be finally getting on track, the Giants' defense still has issues that need to be fixed over the next two weeks. They gave up two big plays on back-to-back possessions in the first quarter.
Running back Fred Jackson busted through a gaping hole for an 80-yard touchdown run and that was followed by a 60-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Naaman Roosevelt to put the Bills up 14-7 in the first quarter.
This was particularly disturbing since the Giants have known for weeks that they need to stop the run and can't. For the fourth straight game, the Giants allowed an opponent to rush for 145 yards or more against them.
During this stretch, the tackling at times has been shoddy and the execution very poor. On Jackson's run, the Giants lost gap control and safety Deon Grant took a bad angle, allowing Jackson to run free.
Then on Roosevelt's catch-and-run, the Giants suffered another breakdown, the kind that will kill them when they face teams such as New England, New Orleans and Green Bay.
"We're not where we want to be," linebacker Michael Boley said. "The big plays are something that we want to eliminate."
Fortunately for Coughlin, the Giants made enough big plays of their own and a big defensive stop.
Besides Bradshaw's trio of 1-yard touchdown runs, cornerback Corey Webster intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick twice, the last coming with 4:02 remaining at the Giants' 4. The Giants' defense had surrendered a seven-point lead early in the fourth and Fitzpatrick had the Bills at the Giants' 27 when Webster picked off an underthrown pass intended for Stevie Johnson.
Eli Manning and Bradshaw made the Bills pay. Bradshaw gained 47 of his yards on the drive, including a hard-charging 30-yard run that put the Giants at Buffalo's 37 with 3:15 left.
Manning, who was sharp all day and passed for 292 yards with no interceptions, threw twice for Hakeem Nicks, who was able to draw two pass interference penalties on Drayton Florence. The second flag put the Giants at the Bills' 7, eventually setting up Lawrence Tynes' 23-yard field goal with 1:32 left.
From there, it was up to the Giants' defense to finish the game. And it did as Buffalo failed to gain a first down, allowing the Giants to escape another close game.
The Giants' last four games have all been decided in the fourth quarter. Though they've won three, Coughlin can only pray that all this living on the edge doesn't come back to haunt his team.
At 4-2, the Giants enter the bye with mixed emotions, knowing that they have plenty of work to do as the defense has a lot of catching up to do to the offense.
They lost two games they feel they should have won against the Redskins and Seahawks. But they also know deep down that they were fortunate to pull off an improbable comeback victory in Arizona.
"We still got a long ways to go but it is easier to correct them off a 'W' instead of an 'L,'" Webster said.
When the Giants come back off their bye to face the Dolphins at home, they should have some much-needed reinforcements. Guard Chris Snee, defensive end Justin Tuck and running back Brandon Jacobs all could be back on the field by that game on Oct. 30. And first-round pick Prince Amukamara could begin practicing sometime soon.
Snee said he will be retested for his concussion on Tuesday, and Tuck told reporters he will definitely return for the Miami game.
"To be 4-2 right now and have the bye and to be an optimist, if I may, maybe we do get some guys back after this two-week period," Coughlin said.
The Giants still have much to improve on, but help is on the way. And that, along with Sunday's win over a solid Bills team, has the Giants feeling very positive for the next two weeks.
"Hopefully, we come back and fit in," Tuck said of the Giants' injured players. "This team is starting to catch a little bit of a rhythm here. Hopefully we can add to that."