Russell Wilson heaved the ball high into the Washington sky, high enough that if you were somehow riding it, you might catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier in the distance. Everyone watching knew how this was going to end. The ball was going to drop to earth like a shuttle on re-entry, and DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett was going to snare it, and the Seattle Seahawks were going to win another weird, bizarre game in their ongoing litany of them.
Not this time. The pass hit the turf, the game ended with Seattle on the wrong end of a 17-12 score, and at least as surprising as the fact that Wilson lost, was the team that victimized him: the New York Football Giants.
Yes, the Giants, the team with the largest divergence between their team name’s promise and their actual production. The Giants, who play in a division that we have advocated firing into the sun. The Giants, who have coasted for a decade and a half on an inexplicable ability to put fear in the heart of Tom Brady … and nobody else. Yes, those Giants.
New York is now 5-7, which in the abstract looks terrible. But consider that they’ve won four straight, which after New Orleans is the best current streak in the NFC. They’ve lost four of those games by a grand total of 10 points. After 18 attempts, they are — don’t laugh now — the first NFC East team this season to beat a team outside the division with a winning record.
How are they doing it? Seriously, how? They lost Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL in Week 2, the second straight year he has missed time due to injury. They lost starting quarterback Daniel Jones, who will need to win three Super Bowls to get out from under the shadow of Eli Manning, last week to an injured hamstring. Calling his replacement, Colt McCoy, “serviceable” would be high praise; McCoy threw for all of 105 yards Sunday, and paired a touchdown with an interception. Still, a W is a W, and the Giants now lead the division for at least a week.
The key for New York’s surge is on the other side of the ball. The Giants’ defense is swarming, as Wilson — sacked five times — can attest. The Giants have forced as many turnovers (10) over their past four wins as in their previous eight games, and allowed just 16.5 points per game over that span. They’ve held opponents to double-digit rush totals in seven of their past 10 games, including allowing just 40 yards against Cincinnati and 37 against Washington.
The Giants rank in the top 10 in points and yards allowed, and fifth in turnovers forced. Pick the statistical measure, and the Giants’ defense is meeting the challenge … and taking pressure off the depleted, undermanned offense.
Jabrill Peppers, acquired from Cleveland in the Odell Beckham Jr. deal, has been a particular highlight. Here he is swallowing up most of Seattle’s o-line en route to Wilson, part of an attack that effectively ended Wilson’s bid for MVP:
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 7, 2020
Giants coach Joe Judge spent Sunday afternoon waxing poetic about his team’s chances, turning “nobody respected us” into a symphony of … nah, just kidding, it was more of the same old coachspeak.
“I like the progress they've made right here,” Judge said after the Seattle win. “I wouldn't say they're ahead or behind any kind of a schedule. I just know that they come to work every day and improve, and that's carried over on a weekly basis.”
Judge is winning support off the field, too. He instituted a new travel policy — sleep over Sunday night, fly out Monday morning rather than take a red-eye Sunday night — that has led to better sleep and, in turn, more productive practice. (Despite the victory, there wasn’t much of a celebration in Seattle: “Everyone is 6 feet apart in their own rooms,” Judge said. “This wasn't the most exciting slumber party.”)
The Giants’ remaining slate includes home games against Arizona and Cleveland, a road game against Baltimore, and a season-finale wrapup at home against Dallas. That’s three teams in the hunt for the playoffs, a tough stretch, but based on how the Giants are playing now, a victory against at least one of those three plus a likely trouncing of Dallas appears achievable.
All division winners, even the NFC East, get the benefit of hosting at least one playoff game. That means at least one team with a far more glitzy record, the highest-ranking non-division winner, will come to MetLife in early January. And right now, that team is … Seattle.
Suddenly the route to the divisional round doesn’t look quite so smooth, does it?
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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