EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Approaching the halfway point of the season, the New York Giants have a lot of work to do to get better.
The potent offense that was supposed to carry the team this season has scored just two touchdowns in the past two games. Steve Spagnuolo's defense is ranked among the lowest in the league and the run portion has been getting progressively worse.
After an average start, the special teams and Dwayne Harris finally delivered with a 100-yard kickoff return that was the difference in a 27-20 win over Dallas on Sunday.
It's not overly impressive, but Tom Coughlin likes this team, which is trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. It works hard, it's scrappy, it shows fight and it leads the NFL with a plus-10 turnover differential.
There is one other thing, too. The Giants (4-3) are in first place in the NFC East despite all their problems. They have won four of five games after blowing leads in losing to Dallas and Atlanta in the first two games of the season.
If they had made a play or two late in those games, the Giants had a chance to be 6-1 going to New Orleans for Sunday's game against the Saints (3-4).
''We have a bunch of guys who love the game, like what they're doing, and play hard,'' Coughlin said Monday. ''That's a pretty good starting point. Effort is a great starting point for anything. By in large, I think we're getting very good effort.''
What's impressive is that the Giants have found a way to bounce back this season. After losing the opening two, they beat Washington, Buffalo and San Francisco.
''I think we have a different group this year and we're hungry and want to be successful and we're not going to be marked by the same things that happened last year and we're resilient,'' linebacker Devon Kennard said. ''We want to continue to show that every week.''
The offense needs to get better. It was limited to 289 yards by the Cowboys with Eli Manning throwing for 170 yards. The surprise was the running game, it gained a season-high 132 yards, the first time this season the team had more than 100 yards in a game.
Fourth-string running back Orleans Darkwa provided a spark, running for 41 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run.
Coughlin said injuries are hurting the offense. Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle have had little practice the past two weeks. The two combined for six catches Sunday for 103 yards, with 44 coming on a one-hand grab by Randle.
Beckham downplayed the lack of practice time. He said it helps, but it is not a major difference in production.
''(It's) just everybody being on the same page, everybody being on the same page, making contested throws, making contested catches, and just making plays,'' Beckham said.
''Bottom line is us as receivers, we have to make plays when we have opportunities. We got the W, so nothing is more important than that. I think things will come along when they come along.''
While the defense is giving up a lot of yards, it allowed an average of just over 22 points. Dallas ran for 233 yards, led by Darren McFadden's season-high 152 yards.
Coughlin blamed the performance on poor tackling, losing leverage on the outside, good play by Dallas' offensive line and some new wrinkles the Cowboys installed in their bye week that caught the Giants off guard.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie led the defense with two of its three interceptions, including 58-yard return for a touchdown.
Besides Harris' return, Giants special teams also recovered a late fumble on a punt return by Cole Beasley to ice the game.
''We're still building, and we're still constructing, and setting our path to where we want to go,'' Beckham said.
NOTES: Despite reports that injured defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul would meet with Giants' doctors, Coughlin said he had no knowledge it would happen. ''To my knowledge, he's not here at this point in time. When he does, we'll let you know,'' Coughlin said. ... Coughlin refused to say whether defensive end Damontre Moore was benched Sunday because of his roughing the passer penalty against the Eagles. On his status for this week: ''If we can include him, then we will.'' With Robert Ayers Jr. undergoing a concussion protocol, the Giants may need Moore.
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