After a disastrous first half of the season, the New York Giants hope the Monday night win in San Francisco is a sign of better things to come.
The Giants (2-7) began the back half of their schedule with a 27-23 victory over the 49ers and look to start a winning streak Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6).
“I think it is encouraging for the team,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “It just gives guys that confidence that we can win games, we can come back from being down, we can get a two-minute drive to win a game when we need to. Guys can step up and make plays on offense, defense, everything, special teams.
“Everybody contributed, everybody played their part, and it was a team victory.”
The Giants can’t change what happened in the first eight games, but they know the goal hasn’t changed.
“The thing is, we got to keep getting better, and I think we have gotten better,” left tackle Nate Solder said. “This has got to be another week. We can’t stay stagnant, we can’t get worse. We got to keep continuing to improve.”
Those improvements include better pass protection for Manning and getting the ball into the hands of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Saquon Barkley.
“We got to control the ball. Don’t put our defense in a bind,” Manning said. “Don’t make it easy on their offense, and we got to score some points also.”
The Giants might not have to face the Buccaneers’ top linebacker, injured Lavonte David, and Tampa Bay’s pass defense is among the worst in the league.
“I think there’s been signs of things clicking and good plays,” Manning said. “We’re able to eliminate the negative plays. Only one sack, and it came on a third down. We just didn’t have those negative plays on first and second down that really hurt us and got us into third-and-longs.”
The Giants’ defense will be trying to shut down Buccaneers veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who continues to start ahead of Jameis Winston.
“He does a really good job of executing,” Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said of Fitzpatrick. “The one thing he does, he gets back there and gets rid of the ball quickly and they have really some dynamic playmakers, especially at receiver. They’ve been doing a good job of moving the ball.”
The key for the Giants’ defense, Shurmur said, is to put pressure on Fitzpatrick to disrupt his timing.
“I think we’re getting better,” Shurmur said. “Nothing we’re doing yet is to the level we want it to be, so we’ll just continue to improve that.”
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter decided to stick with Fitzpatrick this week rather than turn back to Winston, who was benched several weeks ago for being a turnover machine. He threw 10 interceptions in 3 1/2 games after his return from a three-game suspension.
Fitzpatrick is on the same torrid turnover pace — five in two games, including two interceptions and a lost fumble near the goal line in the Buccaneers’ 16-3 loss to Washington on Sunday. But there’s more trust with Fitzpatrick for Koetter.
“We’re going to go with Fitz this week, and that’s how it’s going to stay,” Koetter said. “I just think he gives us the best opportunity right now.”
The Buccaneers put up 501 total yards against the Redskins but managed only a field goal with Koetter calling the plays.
Fitzpatrick had three turnovers. But he also made some plays, and there was a dropped touchdown pass in the end zone. He went 29-of-41 passing for 406 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
His fumble, on second-and-goal at the Washington 4-yard line, came one play after Mike Evans dropped a touchdown pass.
“Turnovers are killing us right now,” Koetter said. “We’re minus-19. We’re last in the league, 13 in the last four games. Thirteen turnovers and no takeaways. That’s by far the No. 1 thing that’s hurting our team and you and I have talked about it many times.”
The Buccaneers still think they have an outside shot at a wild-card berth. Their next two games are winnable against the Giants (2-7) and at home against the 49ers (2-8).
Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will be motivated to win the first one, having played for the Giants.
“It’s been checked off since I left there, and I’m pretty sure they know I’m bringing the house down,” Pierre-Paul said. “So at the end of the day, it is what it is. I know once I get there, I’m just going to be going 100 percent, man.”