- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Coach Tom Coughlin spoke early in the week about sleeping on his office couch, because his role in the Giants' last-second loss to the Eagles last week was "killing" him. And the Giants' All-Pro defensive ends dominated the conversation later on, admitting they're not playing up to par or having much fun. Then Sunday's game began shakily for the Giants against the Browns, and it soon became clear that focusing on that all week, along with the 13 players the Giants had on the injury list, was all wrong.
The Giants again proved Sunday that they have the sort of offense that can lift them over just about anything. Slow starts. No sacks. Early deficits. Shocking fumbles.
Against the Browns, they rallied behind Eli Manning, a career rushing day from Ahmad Bradshaw and a depleted receiving corps that could've been called Victor Cruz and the Replacements, and came roaring back from a 14-0 hole to knock aside the Browns 41-27 at MetLife Stadium.
Everywhere you looked, someone on the Giants' offense -- both the headliners and the bit players -- was making a contribution.
The Giants ripped off 27 unanswered points -- 20 of them in one breathtaking 13½-minute stretch of the second quarter -- to shatter whatever pretensions the still-winless Browns had about catching them.
"Well, we didn't plan on [the slow start]," Coughlin allowed, after the Giants improved to 3-2. "But we also talk about finishing. We finished very well."
Bradshaw epitomized that better than anybody. The Giants were held to just 57 yards rushing against the Eagles, reviving worries that the Giants -- last in the NFL in rushing last year -- were going to struggle this season, too. But after Bradshaw fumbled on the first offensive play of the game because of a collision with right guard Chris Snee -- giving the Browns a stunning gift touchdown less than a minute into the game -- the fifth-year back rallied to finish with a career-high 200 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
Afterward, he got a rare over-the-top rave from Coughlin, who called him "as physically tough and as competitive as anyone I've ever been around." Defensive end Justin Tuck called it Bradshaw's "best day in a Giants uniform" -- not just because of the yardage he slammed and strained and spun out of tackles for, but because "a lesser running back could've went in the tank" after starting the game so badly.
But Bradshaw said there was never a chance of him quitting. None.
"Everybody was telling me on the sidelines that they had my back, we were going to keep fighting, and this team is great at that -- coming back and fighting," Bradshaw said. "I just ran angry today. I was mad at myself for the fumble."
It helped that Bradshaw wasn't the only Giant on a roll. Cruz, despite not having Hakeem Nicks on the other side of the field to draw attention away from him, finished with five catches for 50 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie wideout Rueben Randle, whom Manning pulled aside during the week for a talk about how much he was needed, finished with a team-high six catches for 82 yards, 36 of them on one play.
With Bradshaw's backup, Andre Brown, out of the game with a head injury in the first quarter, rookie David Wilson came in late in the game to give Bradshaw a blow. He took a handoff, made a nice cut inside the right guard, then sprinted away from the Browns' defense and down the right hashmark for a 40-yard TD.
"I'll tell you what -- I could literally hear him run by," Snee said of Wilson, "and it sounded pretty fast."
Manning was as masterful as usual, too, and it didn't seem to matter whom he was throwing to or what the down and distance was. He completed at least one pass to seven different receivers, and led the Giants on a couple of quick-strike possessions, as well as long scoring drives that covered 92, 68, 95, 80 and 76 yards. One drive lasted 11 plays, another 14. That's not a bad way to protect a defense that is still playing with a badly banged-up secondary, a short-handed linebacking crew, and a defensive line that actually took a step back by failing to register a sack for the first time this year.
Five games into the season, the Giants' defense still has only eight sacks overall. Asked if he was concerned, Tuck said, "Yes, I am. Guys are figuring us out. So we've got to do some different things."
The absence of a pass rush will matter more against the teams looming just ahead on the Giants' schedule -- starting with next weekend's trip to San Francisco, then division games against Washington and at Dallas, then a home matchup with Pittsburgh. The Giants did force four turnovers on Sunday. But the defense will definitely need to play better than it did while coughing up 375 yards to a Cleveland team that starts rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
But whether or not the defense improves, what Sunday's game underlined is the Giants' offense now feels like the hub of this team.
It's not just notable for its uncanny fourth-quarter magic. The Giants' offense is good enough and balanced enough to carry the entire team, in the same way that New Orleans' and Green Bay's and New England's offenses have allowed them to thrive despite vulnerable defenses in recent years. And, increasingly, the Giants' offense acts and talks like it knows it, too.
As Manning said, "We've been down 14-nothing with five or six minutes left and come back to win the game, so we never get down, never get frustrated or start to panic. We needed some young guys to definitely step up today and we got big plays from them. But I also thought our offensive line really dominated the line of scrimmage in both the run game and the pass game."
The offense played so well that Manning, who seems more willing to show off his personality and swagger every week, was able to joke later about falling behind 14-0, then 17-7, before rallying to win.
"My pregame talk today was all about starting fast," Manning said, "so obviously they threw that out the window early."
Earlier in the week, when reporters tried to pry information out of him about all of his missing players one by one, Coughlin -- who loathes talking about injuries -- finally interrupted and groused, "If you're going to go down the roster, I'm going to have a little trouble making practice."
This week there'll be no more sleeping on the couch.
The Giants have an offense that can lift them over just about anything.
The Giants win with offense now, and that was on display against the Browns.