In the week leading up to the gauntlet, New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle wasn't having any. He'd heard everything there was to hear about the brutal remaining schedule his team faced and the damage everyone expected it to do their 5-2 start. And here's what he had to say about it, half a week before the game in Foxborough, where Tom Brady and the Patriots never lose:
"I don't worry about our schedule. I think our schedule needs to worry about us."
With a thrilling comeback 24-20 victory Sunday courtesy of Eli Manning, Jake Ballard and a last-minute drive that ranks among Manning's all-time best, the Giants made Rolle's point in a far more convincing way than mere words ever could. Their remaining schedule remains a minefield of rough road trips and muscular opponents, but if you can beat Brady and the Pats in Foxborough, you can beat anybody anywhere.
It's no secret that I've been among the Giants' biggest doubters as they've raced out to their hot start. And it's not as though they're not without their issues. It's still true that they've only scored 14 more points than they've allowed this year. They're still statistically one of the worst run defenses and run offenses in the league. The offensive line is still having problems. And as a result of all of this, they're not likely to go out and dominate anybody.
But the one place the Giants are dominating is in the standings, where they're 6-2. Only the Packers and the 49ers have better records in the NFC. (The Steelers could get there in the AFC with a win Sunday night.) And when you add up everything that's gone wrong for the Giants since the start of training camp and you look up and realize they have the third-best record in the league, you can only conclude they they're tougher than reheated steak and take a back seat to no one in the guts department.
They played this game, you may remember, without their starting center, their leading rusher and their best receiver. It would have been borderline excusable if they hadn't scored a point all night. And in the first half, they didn't. But the defense was up to the task. The defensive line was pressuring Brady to the point where the Hall of Famer looked rattled. Corey Webster was hanging in there in man coverage, as he has all year.
And then, in the second half, when Brady pulled his vampire act and led the Patriots down the field for a touchdown that gave them a three-point lead with 1:36 left, the Giants never even looked at the ground. They gave the ball to their quarterback, who's playing the position as well as anybody outside of Wisconsin this year. They put the ball in the hands of their leader, who's the kind of athlete who keeps his head about him at all times -- even while all those around him are losing theirs. Eli Manning took the ball and did Brady one better. He found Ballard over the middle for the play that reminded everybody of David Tyree in the Super Bowl. He took advantage of a dumb pass interference call by the Patriots at the goal line. And on a broken play, being chased by two defenders when a sack might have meant a loss, he slung it one more time, found Ballard in the back corner of the end zone and won the game.
Manning has been playing like an MVP candidate this year. His stats say so. His relentless, almost bloodless cool under pressure says so. His record absolutely says so. And because of Manning, the Giants have been able to overcome all of the obstacles in their path this year. Manning deserves credit for Ballard and Victor Cruz and, in key spots in this game, Ramses Barden turning into legitimate options in the passing game. He deserves credit for delivering time and again in spite of the troubles the line and the running game are having in front of him. And what Manning and the Giants did Sunday, with their latest win, was announce to the league what Rolle had boasted a few days earlier. Not only are they not scared of their tough remaining schedule -- the teams on that schedule have reason to be scared of them.