After a dreadful start to the year, the New York Giants finally showed some signs of life before their bye.
Now, they'll try to pick up where they left off and climb back into the NFC East race Sunday against the visiting Oakland Raiders, who are hoping to have starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor available.
The Giants (2-6) surrendered 34.8 points per game in posting their first 0-6 start in 37 years, but they appear to have regained their confidence after winning the final two games before the bye, 23-7 over Minnesota on Oct. 21 and 15-7 at Philadelphia in Week 8.
"We won our last couple of games, which is a great thing. Are we back?" safety Antrel Rolle asked. "We'll be back once we reach that postseason. That's when I'll say that we're back. Right now we're grinding.
"We're grinding, we're fighting extremely hard. ... We're pushing ahead and more importantly we're staying together."
Despite its early season struggles, last-place New York is just 2 1/2 games behind division-leading Dallas and 1 1/2 in back of the second-place Eagles.
"All we can worry about is getting back to playing well and get on a hot streak and start winning games," Eli Manning said. "It's all about us. We can only control what we can do. It might happen some weeks that a team might lose for us. They all might win. They all might lose. If we are winning, we'll keep in distance and give ourselves a shot."
If the Giants hope to get back in contention, Manning will need to find his form. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has completed just 55.7 percent of his passes and thrown for 10 touchdowns and an NFL-worst 15 interceptions - matching his total from last season.
"I think Eli is still a very good player and after 10 years, he didn't forget how to play his position all of a sudden," general manager Jerry Reese said. "There are a lot of things involved with his play and everybody's play. It's all of us. We win together, we lose together. Eli has been through some rough patches before and we've seen him pull himself out of it and really play well and I expect him to do that again."
Manning appears to have a favorable matchup against a Raiders secondary that was picked apart in a 49-20 loss to Philadelphia last Sunday. Oakland (3-5) surrendered 542 yards of offense - the fourth-highest total in franchise history - as the Eagles' Nick Foles threw for 406 yards and tied a league record with seven TDs.
"There's no question there's a bad taste in our mouth right now," coach Dennis Allen said. "But that one's over with.
"I don't know if we were reading our press clippings or what, but the NFL is all about what have you done for me lately and what do you do out there on Sunday. If you want to be a top-notch defense you've got to bring it every week and we've got to do a better job next week."
Aside from their defensive concerns, the Raiders have a couple key injuries to worry about with Pryor and starting running back Darren McFadden banged up. Pryor was forced to leave in the fourth quarter last week with a sprained knee while McFadden departed in the second after aggravating a hamstring injury.
"There's probably a little bit more concern with Darren then there is with Terrelle," Allen said.
Pryor practiced Wednesday while McFadden sat out.
Pryor threw for a career-high 288 yards and two interceptions before exiting, giving him seven and just one passing touchdown in the last three games. Pryor, leading the NFL with 7.7 yards per rush, also ran 10 times for 94 yards.
Rashad Jennings played well after replacing McFadden, compiling 176 yards from scrimmage and a score.
The Giants' ground game could get a boost from Andre Brown, who is expected to be activated from injured reserve this week. Brown, who broke his leg in the final preseason game, led New York with eight rushing TDs last season.
"We're looking forward to getting him back," coach Tom Coughlin, whose team ranks 30th in the NFL with 69.9 rushing yards per game, told the team's official website. "It's been a long time."
Brown's return may prove especially key with David Wilson (herniated disc) still out and Brandon Jacobs uncertain to play with a nagging hamstring issue. Star wideout Victor Cruz's status also remains uncertain due to a neck injury.
The Giants cruised to a 44-7 rout of Oakland during the last matchup Oct. 11, 2009 behind 220 rushing yards and Manning's perfect 158.3 quarterback rating.
The Raiders have dropped 10 of 11 road games since the start of last season, including seven straight by an average of 15.7 points.
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