As the New York Giants got dressed on Sunday, still buzzing over their improbable comeback in the visitor's locker room in Arizona, Jerry Reese stood toward the back of the room with a pleased look on his face.
The Giants' general manager is thrilled, but not surprised, that his team is rolling.
"I know what we have in this room," Reese said Sunday night. "I'm not surprised by the character guys we have on this team."
The Giants (3-1) won their third straight game in dramatic fashion, as they completed their second consecutive come-from-behind victory.
While the Giants are no strangers to fast starts, many fans and observers wondered what kind of start they would get off to in 2011 after a rocky preseason.
The Giants lost wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss in free agency to higher bidders. Coach Tom Coughlin lost several key players, like cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, to season-ending injuries as well.
Reese, who came under fire from fans who wanted to see the Giants sign high-profile free agents, refused to panic or make any knee-jerk moves.
"I'm not a panic kind of guy," Reese said in the jubilant Giants locker room after the win over the Cardinals. "I try to make good football decisions for the New York Giants. It is not my job to worry about if the fans are panicking or if the media is saying we didn't do anything."
Reese insisted that despite the injuries and the loss of Smith and Boss, the Giants had more than enough to win. When most fans were in full panic mode after Smith and Boss departed, Reese confidently said that the Giants "will make the plays this [year] and we'll get in the playoffs and make a run."
Reese believed that young, unproven players would step up, the way Smith and Boss once did. After four games, Reese has watched a few players take advantage of their opportunities. Wide receiver Victor Cruz, rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams and tight end Jake Ballard are among the young players that have made solid contributions.
"I've stuck to this all along and I'm not going to change now, we have good players, we have them in position [to win]," Coughlin said. "We certainly have had some things go the other way in terms of [injuries] and feel bad about those players, but the rest of the guys have to pick it up. Am I surprised? No, I'm not surprised. But do we have to improve and continue to get better and get more out of a lot of people who need to grow and expand and develop? Yes."
Many of the things Reese said the Giants would need to do has happened, at least to a certain degree.
The GM said quarterback Eli Manning had to reduce his interceptions, and that has happened. Manning is currently third in the NFL in passer rating, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Manning has two picks this season, but has thrown six touchdown passes and no interceptions in the past two games. And his play in the fourth quarter has been excellent.
Manning has completed 29 of 38 passes for 353 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in his four fourth quarters this year.
After losing wideout Domenik Hixon for the season to a knee injury in the second week, Cruz has nine receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games. He hasn't made people forget about Smith yet, but fellow wide receiver Mario Manningham thinks the trio of Hakeem Nicks, Manningham and Cruz could be better than the Giants' old trio of Nicks, Manningham and Smith.
The Giants haven't thrown a ton of passes to their tight ends, but Ballard has seven receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown -- the TD helping the Giants erase a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes against Arizona.
Pierre-Paul has continued his emergence as a star, with 4.5 sacks in his first three games. But his fellow South Florida product, Williams, has really surprised with 25 total tackles, which is third-most on the team.
Reese also strengthened his special teams. Punter Steve Weatherford has been steady, and the punt and kickoff return coverage units have yet to surrender a touchdown.
The Giants still need to get off to better starts after trailing in the past two fourth quarters. And they have to plug a leaky run defense, which has allowed 177 yards and 156 yards to the Eagles and Cardinals, respectively, in the past two games.
But confidence is growing inside the Giants' locker room after two inspiring victories. The Giants have shown that they can finish games, something that kept them from making the playoffs last year.
"This team is not going to give up," Reese said. "We are going to keep trying. This shows a character team, a talented team with character, that is not going to give up."
So far, things look and feel much better than they did at the end of the preseason and following the season-opening loss to the Washington Redskins.
Reese never wavered in his belief of what this team can do. And his players are beginning to believe.
"Hopefully our destiny is to be a special team this year," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "We got the makings of it."