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Palladino: Giants' Personality Makeover Could Just Be Getting Started

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

At this point last season, the Giants were buried in the NFC East cellar, a game and a half behind Washington. The Redskins would ultimately finish in that spot, but at the time even they were exhibiting a better defensive game than those 0-5 Giants.

It was awfully morose in that locker room.

How far things have come since then. The turnaround, thanks to a three-game winning streak, has put Tom Coughlin's group in position to turn these next two games in Philadelphia and Dallas into the season's most interesting, and perhaps most decisive, sequence.

Beat them both, and they'll sit alone atop the division. Split the games, and they'll at least remain positioned to challenge for the top spot.

While 3-2 offers no reason at all to purchase those Super Bowl tickets yet, one cannot discount the emotional change the Giants' current winning has engendered. It's loud and loose now. The players look forward to going to work at the Quest Diagnostic Training Center, even as they risk having a loose-lipped safety exposing their love lives.

As long as everyone takes it in good fun, as Antrel Rolle's Prince-ly target and his wife did, no harm, no foul. As long as the team is winning. Say it at 0-5, and it might have triggered a big problem. Nobody smiles when they're on an O-fer.

It's the same with the picture of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara that hit the news this week. Seems they thought it a good idea to mock the defending division champion Eagles' empty trophy case. The fact that Philadelphia is 4-1 and that the Giants have to go into their Lincoln Financial aviary Sunday night didn't enter their decisions to flash those zeroes while a fan standing in front of them donned an Eagles jersey with the same number.

It probably wasn't smart, given that city's populous never needs to be reminded of Philly's longstanding inferiority complex as New York's poor little sister.

But that's what winning does, too. It emboldens players, sometimes to the point of rankling their ultra-conservative coach. Never believe, however, that Coughlin would ever trade the occasional headache from the runny mouth of winning for the meek political politeness of a loser. He'd rather have a classy winner, of course. But barring that, what he has now is the next best thing.

What undoubtedly gives him great comfort at this point is his quarterback, who wouldn't say boo if he was wandering around a graveyard in a white bed sheet on Halloween. Eli Manning is in his best month. His 30-7 October record ranks as the best among quarterbacks with at least 20 starts in the Super Bowl era.

The Eagles appear somewhat aware of that, as they have promised all but a jailbreak pass rush every time he drops into the pocket. And that won't be because the Giants had some verbal fun with them during the week.

More likely, it's because Manning is playing some of the best football of his career. The ball is coming out quicker, and he's getting passes where he wants them. With a burgeoning confidence in first-round receiver Odell Beckham's abilities after a fine debut last week, and the emergence of tight end Larry Donnell as a real weapon over the first four games, Manning has two additional weapons to complement Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle and help keep him on pace for a career-high 36 touchdown passes. He's also completing a career-high 66.3 percent of his throws, just a click under the 70 percent goal offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo had set in training camp.

McAdoo and Coughlin were laughed at for that. But the current winning streak has closed a lot of the critics' mouths, at least temporarily. The fact that it has opened some mouths in the locker room, well, that's just a function of stringing together a few victories.

"We're the team to beat, as far as I'm concerned," Mathias Kiwanuka said. "I feel like we should all feel that way."

Beat Philadelphia and the noise in the locker room will inevitably get louder.

Beat Dallas next week and land in first place, and the scattered comments, some brazen, some embarrassing, could get so loud that the players won't be able to hear themselves think in there.

What a change from just a year ago.

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