EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It wasn't the happy feeling it should have been.
For sure, this was a day to hold the confetti and wipe your brow.
The New York Giants should have been thrilled after their third straight victory on Sunday afternoon, improving to 4-2 and moving into a first-place tie in the NFC East.
But the Giants' 28-20 victory over the lowly Detroit Lions at the New Meadowlands Stadium left a lot to be desired, and there's a real reason to be concerned going into their trip to Dallas to play the Cowboys next Monday night.
For sure, a win is a win. And teams will take an ugly win any day.
"It definitely wasn't pretty out there today, but you have to get a win any way you can," Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "The team was coming off a big win. We showed fortitude today."
Nice, but we would have preferred the killer instinct -- especially if the Giants are trying to be a great team, a team with an honest shot at winning another Super Bowl.
If that's the case, there's no reason to play the living-dangerously game they played against a team that is 1-5 this season, has won four of its past 46 games, and has now lost 24 games in a row on the road.
"They haven't won a ton of games, but we knew coming in that it was going to be a dogfight and a struggle," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "They played an outstanding ballgame and luckily we were able to come away with a victory."
And how. That's why the Lions aren't a team you have a playdate with. Detroit is a team you put out of its misery early, just so it doesn't get any idea of an upset.
Sadly, the Giants never delivered the knockout blow against a bad team which lost its current starting quarterback Shaun Hill (broken arm) near the end of the first half and finished the game with its third quarterback when the season began, Drew Stanton. The Lions' regular starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, has been sidelined with an injury since the first game of the season.
Yet, here were the Lions moving the ball late in the game and in position to score a shocker, a season-wrecker.
And had it played out that way, it would have been the Giants, not the Lions, who had opened the door. Their defense gave up too many yards (366). They were sloppy, too -- a fumble by punter Matt Dodge set up the first touchdown for the Lions, who jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
Maybe the Giants were looking ahead to the Cowboys. But you have to be focused, and too often in this game they weren't, especially on defense.
No better example of that came with the Giants up, 21-10, in the fourth quarter. The Lions were pushed all the way back on their 13-yard line. Instead of burying the Lions, the Giants allowed that sad-sack franchise to get back in the game with an 87-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson with 13:34 left.
"I was not happy when it was 21-10 and they scored in the blink of an eye," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
With a big-play receiver like Johnson, there was a scary feeling in the stadium that he could pull off another miracle TD in the waning seconds. It didn't happen because safety Antrel Rolle came up with a game-ending interception with seven seconds remaining and the Lions driving in Giants territory. "We were able to keep our composure, keep our foot on the pedal and drive forward," Rolle said.
It will be no surprise if the Giants go to Dallas next Monday night and have a great game, doing all the things they need to do in order to win. And that will be just typical of this up-and-down team. You're never sure which team is going to show -- the good squad or the disappointing bunch.
There were clear signs, though, that this could have been a disaster. The Giants should be better than that, not putting themselves in a such a situation. "If you lose this one, you go back and talk about all the opportunities that you had to win," Cofield said. "In reality, you'll take any win, however it comes."
The Giants can't let this happen again. Next time it does against a lesser opponent, there won't be a happy ending. Hopefully, they have now been warned.
Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.