EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' defense has been so good, especially over the last few weeks, it looks capable of carrying them all the way to the Super Bowl. So imagine how unstoppable the Giants would be if their offense was even adequate instead of just bad.
That's the irony of this team: After the offense carried it the last few seasons, the script has been completely flipped. The offense has been so bad that it had reason to celebrate on Sunday when it gained 300 total yards in the Giants' 17-6 win over the Detroit Lions -- it was the first time it hit that low total in almost a month.
Their good mood wasn't just about their total yards, though. They also had two strong touchdown drives, including one in the fourth quarter. It's hardly a breakout game for an offense that had finished in the top 10 in each of the previous two seasons.
But they're starting to feel like that long-awaited breakout game is getting close.
"I feel like we left some meat on the bone," Odell Beckham Jr. said. "The breakout game is coming soon."
"At some point we know what our offense can do," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "With the weapons they have, it's going to click when we need it to click."
That's been their hope for quite a while, but it came into the game ranked a stunning 27th in the NFL. After averaging just 263.3 yards over the last three games, the Giants didn't exactly play much better on Sunday. The best they can say is that Eli Manning (20-of-28, 201 yards, two touchdowns) played efficient, mistake-free football and the rushing attack was decent, gaining 114 yards on 32 carries.
That was considered progress. So was the Giants' game-opening drive -- a 10-play, 75-yard beauty that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Sterling Shepard. The real progress, though, when they actually put together a similar drive in the fourth quarter, going 71 yards on eight plays, including a four-yard touchdown pass to Beckham with 5:47 remaining to put the Giants up by 11 and essentially put the game away.
A fourth-quarter drive like that had been missing from the Giants' arsenal as they've constantly left the games in the hands of their defense in recent weeks. It was exciting and encouraging.
But the offense still thinks it can do a whole lot more.
"I think that I understand that our defense is playing good and we have to play smart offensively, but we still have that desire -- we want to go out there and score on offense," Manning said. "We know that we can make plays and we can have that game where we score 28 or 35. So we can't force it. We just have to wait for the opportunities, be patient with them. But eventually …"
Yes, eventually -- something the Giants have been waiting for all offseason long. They've topped 400 yards in a game just thrice all season, and not once in the last two months. They've struggled in all areas -- running, passing, pass protection, penalties, red zone and more. They have been sporadically good, admittedly good enough to help the Giants to their first 10-win season to 2010.
But they know they can be better. And they definitely want to do more.
"It's just hard for me to accept good," Beckham said. "I need it to be great -- above that, legendary. It's got to be that way every single time. If you really put it in perspective, we work six and a half days a week for one hour of football. When you really break it down, that's once a week that you're getting the opportunity to do your thing and be on the football field. All the meetings, all the practices, getting up early and driving to work. All that goes into it, it's a lot of sacrifice. When we get out here, I just want it to be our very best foot forward."
New York's offense has definitely not put its best foot forward this year, and neither has the 35-year-old quarterback running the show. But that said, Giants coach Ben McAdoo said "without a doubt" he still thinks of Manning as a quarterback who can win a game if he has to. And the Giants' confidence doesn't seem to have waned at all.
Manning says he can be better. His teammates say they can be better. They have two regular-season games left -- and at least one more in the playoffs -- to back up their words.
"Saying it and doing it, they're two different things," McAdoo said. "We talk about (how) I need to coach better and our offensive players need to play a little bit better and I thought we played a better game offensively today. (We only) put up 17 points, but we played better as an offense."
And once again, they're hoping that's only the start.