“I love winning! It’s, like, better than losing.”

-Ebbie Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh

I.

Wow, this feels good. Finally, we played a team in a bigger state of disarray than we were, played well enough, caught some breaks, and came away with a comfortable win. I hope I’m not premature in declaring this, but I sincerely believe that after a horrific third quarter of the season, the long nightmare in G-Men nation is over. It’s morning again in East Rutherford.

Am I getting too excited about one win? Perhaps. But you know what? Fuck it. I, along with everyone else who didn’t write the Giants off this year, have earned it as a fan. If I was saying the season was salvageable after the Tennessee game, I have the right to say that we might have just turned the corner after this one.

Think of it this way: After bottoming out against Jacksonville (who, we all know after today, is a pretty damn good team) we came back strong against a not-bad Tennessee team and thoroughly outplayed them for three quarters. Then, in one quarter, we collapsed. It was a historically horrible choke, and compounded by all the shit the following week, it threatened to destroy our season.

If we had came out flat and gotten our asses whooped by a steamrolling Dallas team, even I – with my relentless optimism and my steadfast defending of Coughlin, Eli, Plax, and Shockey – would have conceded the season. But if we showed up and gave a game effort, I was not ready to give up on the season.

Before the Dallas game, I wrote the following:

“So if we don’t win tomorrow, I’m not prepared to write the season off. I mean, it obviously depends on how we play. Like, if the offense continues to shit the bed and Romo slices us up, than yes, I will be very, very down on this team and will believe that even if we get our guys back and make the playoffs, we’re really not a serious contender.

“But if the offense comes alive a little and we hang with the Cowboys but just don’t get a few bounces? It’s still only one game, and anything can happen, which means that if we get to the playoffs, get a little healthier, and see these guys again… I like our chances just fine.”

And what happened in the Cowboy game? We showed up. We showed up big time against a team that nobody had been playing better than. Eli came back strong and played a very good game. We intercepted Romo twice, which were his first two picks since we last intercepted him twice. We outplayed the ‘Boys, but we just didn’t get the “few bounces” that I referred to.

It was a devastating loss, of course, but it was so devastating because we outplayed them. But that game showed that we are capable of bouncing back from adversity. And that counts for something. Yes, I know everyone wants to label the G-Men as underachieving crybaby bitches, but please, can we give them credit for playing hard and well against the Cowboys? And even though we came out on the wrong end of the scoreboard, can we give them credit for bouncing back from last week’s loss to get a road win today?

I feel it. I really do feel it. Sure, we hit rock bottom during that four game losing streak, but we’ve shown the ability to get back up. When we lost to Jacksonville, I wouldn’t have said this about this team, but, strangely, after more two losses and one win, I believe that the 2006 Giants are a team that can take a punch. What didn’t kill us has made us stronger.

Even after enduring one of the most horrific stretches in recent memory, consider the possibilities at this point: We can safely assume that two wins in the next three games (against Philly, New Orleans, and at Washington) will get us into the playoffs. But I expect to win all three.

Once there, is there anyone in the NFC that is better than us? Do you really think the Bears are better than us at this point, what with Tommie Harris lost for the season and Rex Grossman playing worse than Eli ever has? Do you think the Cowboys are better than us? Even after last night? It would be strange if you did, because, after all, we just outplayed them. The Seahawks? They just lost to the Cardinals. The Saints? Please. We’ll show them in a couple of weeks. Jeremy Shockey was right: When we are playing our game, we should beat any of these teams.

II.

God, I had forgotten how good this feels. Winning makes all the difference on a Sunday: For the first time in a month (!), I looked forward to watching the Sunday night game (yes, Saints!) as well as all the highlights tonight and tomorrow.

One of the things that made this losing streak so depressing was that the games were all late games. The rainy Sunday night against Chicago; the Monday night loss at Jacksonvile; the dismal 4:00 losses against the Titans and Cowboys. A little after 4 today, with a Giants win under my belt, I thought to myself, “Maybe watching the G-Men doesn’t have to be such a painful experience after all.”

III.

Now, not to take anything away from this win – we did beat them 27-13, in their place, after all – but it’s worth mentioning that we got really lucky today in some key situations.

–The Jacobs Fumble: I don’t know how Shaun Williams didn’t recover this, but somehow, he whiffed, the ball somehow squirted out from underneath him, and Shockey picked it up. All I can say is that I’m glad Shaun Williams isn’t on our team anymore – that guy sucks. But anyway, if Williams pounces on that, the score would have remained 10-10 after a first half in which we thoroughly outplayed those chumps.

But Williams missed, Shockey recovered, and we scored a touchdown on the next play to take an authoritative 17-10 lead into the half.

–The two other fumbles we were lucky enough not to lose:

1) Morton’s fumble on his punt return: For maybe the second time all season, Chad Morton broke a punt return into the open field. Unfortunately, he’s really, really slow, and he got run down from behind by a linebacker. Not only that, but he got the ball popped out of his hands, even though not fumbling is pretty much the only thing the guy is good at.

A different bounce and the Panthers would have had the ball back with another chance to tie the game, but fortunately for us, the ball skipped out of bounds and we kept possession. We kicked a field goal that series and went up by 10.

2) With 4:34 remaining in the 3 quarter, and the Giants up 27-17, Eli fumbled at the 2 yard line. Luckily, Jim Finn – who had an excellent game, by the way – was Johnny on the Spot. Although he was the only Giant in the area, he pounced on the rock and allowed us to maintain possession. Had Carolina recovered the fumble, they probably would have scored a touchdown to pull within an eminently surmountable 10 points with around 20 minutes left in the game.

So basically, we fumbled three times in consequential situations and recovered all of them. In football, that’s, like, the definition of luck.

–The dropped pick by Thomas Davis (#58): Whoa, did Eli got away with one here! I don’t know how this guy dropped this pick, but on the next play, Eli hit Shockey on a 25-yard seam to keep the eventual scoring drive going. (This was the same series in which Jacobs would later fumble – and we would recover!) This touchdown drive was big. I’m telling you.

–The Panthers’ many drops. How many passes did these guys drop? I’d say around 8. And don’t forget Weinke’s many horrendous throws. I don’t care if that team was a hard-luck 6-6 and that they were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. That team we played today sucked.

IV.

On the other hand, the only reason that we hadn’t built up a bigger lead early on is because we got seriously screwed on some calls.

–1) The call of incomplete on that hitch to Plax in the first quarter. We even challenged this! I don’t see how there wasn’t an angle that showed that the ball didn’t hit the ground. Anyway, that deprived us of a 1 down, and we went 3-and-out on the series.

–2) The blatant pass interference on Tim Carter early in the second quarter. A really obvious call that the refs missed. If they make the call, we’re in field goal range. That’s three points right there.

–3) DeShawn Foster totally fumbled on that play that Osi crashed the “mesh point” (4 minutes into the second quarter). But the refs blew the play dead, screwing over the G-Men. Had they not prematurely blew the whistle, we would have taken over in the Carolina red-zone. (And didn’t they just make a new rule this year that was supposed to address such situations? Please.)

It’s fair to say that calls 2 and 3 wound up costing us at least 6 points.

V.

My game ball goes to both Kevin Dockery and Tim Lewis. Props to Dockery for stepping his play up after halftime, and props to Lewis for making the adjustment that allowed him to do so.

In the first half, Dockery was a glaring vulnerability. After the Giants scored a touchdown to go up 7-0, the Panthers responded by picking on the undrafted rookie. Aside from a 12-yard DeShaun run, the Panthers passed to a receiver covered by Dockery on three out of four plays on their ensuing answer, culminating in a 36-yard touchdown to Drew Carter.

Dockery got abused on that drive, and I remember thinking: Why are we sticking this guy on the island? Why not stick R.W. (who was sort of playing a nickel/slot position) out there?

Well, the original thinking was clear enough. R.W. is a much better tackler and blitzer, and Lewis and co. wanted him in the slot where he would be closer to the action. They had hoped that Dockery could hold his own out at one corner, but they were wrong. The kid got slayed up, and we paid the price (There was an additional 39-yard completion to Carter – Dockery gave up around 100 yards in the first half alone).

But credit the coaching staff for making the necessary adjustment: The stuck R.W. on the corner and put Dockery in the slot, where R.W. had been playing.

The reward was immediate. On 3 down of the Panthers first series, Dockery jumped around intended for Steve Smith and almost picked it. Either way, he made the play and broke it up – the Panthers punted and we came back with a field goal to extend our lead to 10.

For the rest of the half, the dude was all over the place. He made a couple of key plays a couple of possession later, and on the possession after that, he jumped a route beautifully and made a tremendous pick that, with under 10 minutes left in the game and the Giants up by 17, pretty much sealed the deal.

Nice job by the rook, and a nice job by the braintrust. And, of course, a nice job by R.W., as always. How huge has the Dubs been for us? Watching R.W. this year reminds me of the sentiments of Charlie Donovan when he first laid eyes on Pedro Cerrano hitting the shit out of the straight-ball in spring training: “How come nobody else picked up on him?”

This guy’s been a Godsend, and at this point of the season, I would be pretty pissed if Corey Webster came back and cut into his playing time. The secondary is a bit of a vulnerability, but if we have Madison (who looks really solid these days) and R.W., two solid veterans, I think we’ll be okay.