EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Getting off to their best start in eight years has only made the Super Bowl champion New York Giants wary.
To understand their concern, look at the NFC East standings.
The Giants and Cowboys are tied for first place in the division with 3-0 records, a game ahead of Philadelphia and Washington.
“It’s a good division,” middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “Everyone in our division is winning, so we can’t feel too good. It’s not like we’re sitting on the mountain all by ourselves.”
The Giants might be fortunate to be tied with Dallas. They struggled at times on Sunday against the winless Cincinnati Bengals and needed a couple of big plays in overtime to walk away with a 26-23 victory.
It was nothing to gloat about, but it kept the Giants’ momentum going into an early bye week. They have won seven straight games dating to the start of the playoffs last season.
“I think we have done a good job of finding ways to win,” center Shaun O’Hara said. “That’s what you have to do to be a good team, find ways to win, even when you are not playing your best or things are not going as smooth as you would like. You just have to find a way to get it done.”
The 3-0 start is the best for the Giants since 2000, a year they went 12-4 and went to the Super Bowl.
Coach Tom Coughlin spent a lot of time on Monday pointing out areas where the Giants can improve. Offensively, they have had to settle for nine John Carney field goals, with five being less than 30 yards.
While the defense has gotten 13 sacks and limited opponents to 43 points, the unit has just one turnover, an interception return for a touchdown by defensive end Justin Tuck.
“We still have things we need to work on,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “With three games, there is a lot of stuff that happens, that you can make adjustments on, and that’s what we will work on this week.”
The reality check for New York is that they are historically horrible coming out of the bye week. They have won only four times in 19 games since the bye was instituted in 1990. They are 1-3 under Coughlin.
New York dropped a 31-20 decision to Dallas after the bye last season.
“The feeling is it is a good start, but we haven’t accomplished anything,” O’Hara said. “I think we are happy with the start and certainly we could not go into the bye week with a better record than we have now. It’s nice, but again it doesn’t matter unless we come out of the bye week and continue to play the way we have been playing.”
The Giants will work out on Wednesday and Thursday and then get the rest of the week off before returning to prepare for a home game against Seattle (1-2).
They follow that with a Monday night game against the Browns (0-3) in Cleveland and another home game against San Francisco (2-1).
A brutal three-week stretch follows with games at Pittsburgh (2-1), home against Dallas and on the road at Philadelphia.
“This is a team that can still improve,” said veteran cornerback Sam Madison, who broke up a Carson Palmer third-down pass in the overtime that allowed New York to get the ball back for its winning drive. “It’s a team that is still hungry, with a lot of young guys still ready to produce. We’re a football team that still has something to prove. There is a lot of upside to this football team.”