EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What a difference one win and one year can make.
It was just over a year ago that the New York Giants went into their bye week 2-8 after 10 games. They had lost to the New York Jets in a game that safety Jabrill Peppers called "definitely embarrassing."
Running back Saquon Barkley rushed for 1 yard on 13 carries in that contest and it was all but inevitable that coach Pat Shurmur would be fired. Giants owner John Mara zoomed past reporters in the hallway that afternoon, ignoring a query about whether he wanted to comment on the state of his moribund franchise.
Fast-forward one year. Shurmur is gone and coach Joe Judge has the Giants at 3-7 after a 27-17 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. It's only a one-game improvement, but it feels like five. With the NFC East in shambles and the Giants a much-improved team from what they showed earlier this season, they are a group brimming with unusual optimism for a team with their record.
"Like I told y'all last week, we know we're a pretty good football team and it's just about coming out here and executing on game days," Peppers said, a stark contrast from his comments one year earlier. "We're just going to enjoy this bye week, rest our bodies, get some guys back and prepare for the six-game stretch."
It will be a meaningful six-game stretch to close out Judge's first season. The playoffs are no longer a pipe dream with the division-leading Eagles (3-5-1) facing a tough upcoming schedule.
Judge deserves a lot of credit. He has done a commendable job keeping this deficient, but improved, roster on the right track. Still, he doesn't want to hear about it and refuses to look at the standings.
"I have not, and I'll tell everyone right now, it's irrelevant," Judge said of the Giants sitting alone in second place. "The only thing that matters is we keep improving as a team and go 1-0 every week. ... To give ourselves a chance to be the best program we can be."
This has been Judge's mantra all along. He knows it's more about building for the long term, not pretending to be a real contender in a wild season. And he's not going to stray from that thinking after two straight wins.
This is perhaps why the Giants are in a much better position than in previous years. They're building toward bigger and better things, not looking for instant gratification.
Their improvement is obvious in so many different areas. It's not ridiculous to think this team is deserving of another win or two considering the tough losses they have suffered.
This Giants team might statistically be worse offensively than last season (they entered Sunday's game ranked 31st in yards and points per game), but that's largely without Barkley, who was lost for the season (knee) in Week 2. Their offense has also incrementally improved as this season has progressed, even if the overall numbers might not reflect it. And they're better defensively (ranked 16th overall compared to 25th last season) and on special teams.
It has the Giants feeling better about themselves.
"Just with our preparation and everything leading up to this point, we're finally really feeling that sense of team," starting running back Wayne Gallman said. "We're all coming together."
Those are some telling statements from Gallman, among the longest-tenured Giants. He has seen the dark years with a team that hasn't topped five wins in any of the previous three seasons.
For the first time in years, the Giants have hope come Thanksgiving. But it's bigger than that. It's about the future of Judge's program.
"We're not trying to show everybody what we are. We just know who we are and we're doing it as a team," Gallman said. "We practice too hard and we work too hard -- it's finally letting some light shine."
It's only possible because the Giants have stopped turning the ball over at a staggering pace. Quarterback Daniel Jones hasn't committed a turnover in the past two games. He had one clean game in his first 20 starts and zero in the first eight games of this season.
Jones flashed promise last season in the loss to the Jets (308 yards passing and four touchdown passes), but he also lost a crucial fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the second half.
"I think that certainly gives us a better chance to win games," Jones said of his improved ball security. "It's something I've been focusing on. I think we did a great job executing and coach [Jason] Garrett called a great game, and it's up to me to understand where to take risks and where not to."
Jones credits his improvement to a better understanding of game situations. Perhaps he has seen the light at the same time as the rest of the Giants.
What matters is they head into their Week 11 bye on the kind of high this organization hasn't experienced very often lately.