EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The halftime show at MetLife Stadium for the Giants-Texans game involved monkeys riding dogs around the field. It was a somewhat apt choice, as the game was all about the Giants getting a large monkey off their back.
New York achieved that with a convincing 30-17 win over Houston -- and with an offense that has finally started firing on all cylinders.
There was a lot of pressure on this team to avoid the 0-3 start (and of course to not to duplicate last year's 0-6 start), and the players knew it.
They just didn't let it get to them.
If there was one singular theme to the post-game comments I heard (aside from, "Monkeys? For real?") it was the lack of tension and pressure in practice this week.
"We knew it was a big game," quarterback Eli Manning said, "but the most important thing you can do in that situation is to not let it feel that way. You know it's big, but if you start pressing or stressing or telling everybody we gotta win this game, people -- they get tense."
Safety Antrel Rolle said this week "was just about relaxing, you know, just taking your mind away from the game a little bit."
Like several other players, Manning and Rolle both mentioned going out and just playing football.
"It's Sunday, go play football," Manning said that he had told the team. "Don't worry about being perfect or doing everything exact, just play the game you love and play fast."
Rolle told players, "We know how to do this, we been doing this for a long time. Just go out there and play relaxed, play sound, play your technique and get a win at all costs."
Running back Rashad Jennings, who had a career high 176 rushing yards on the day, said he told the team much the same thing before the game.
"I just kind of reminded the guys, before we walked out on the field that whatever reason you play this game, play like that."
Of course, while the team may have worked hard to focus on staying loose and not tensing up with punt competitions and fun musical selections (Manning said the Friday music of 90's rap was stolen off head coach Tom Coughlin's iPad), the reality was that last year's skid to open the season loomed large over their heads.
Manning told us they "didn't want to go through that again" and Coughlin said he "wished we would have won a couple of weeks ago," sentiments echoed in the very palpable feeling of relief in the locker room.
Of course, 2013 still sits in the minds of Giants fans, media and the team, as 1-2 is only marginally better than 0-3.
However, fans on Sunday were able to see the offense actually executing plays, and the offensive line was a huge part of that. The line gave Manning a ton of time on most plays and also did an outstanding job creating running lanes for Jennings' career day.
"I thought the line did an outstanding job of getting hat on a hat," Jennings said, crediting them with making things smooth for him.
Manning was encouraged by the play of the line as well. "I think we had the one sack early on in the first series, but besides that, I was held up and we were running, getting five, six, seven yards a pop. A couple of ten-yard runs. That's when the line is dominating.
"They were feeling it and excited."
The Giants still have plenty of work to do, as their timing isn't quite perfect yet. Especially early on, Manning and his receivers weren't on the same page. As the game progressed, the line gave Manning more time to get into a rhythm and his receivers began to get open.
Still, the Giants offense remains a work-in-progress. For every 61-yard catch-and-run off a slant pattern by Victor Cruz, there's a handful of passes sailing where receivers aren't.
So, there's work to do and a short week to do it in. This week the Giants head to Washington, D.C. for a Thursday night game, taking on a team whose quarterback looked very good against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.
Kirk Cousins lacks Robert Griffin III's mobility, but is actually a better fit for head coach Jay Gruden's offense. This is a key divisional game, every bit as important as the victory against Houston.
While the Philadelphia Eagles are undefeated, they are by no means juggernauts. They've slipped by three teams, including Washington this past week in a game which went down to the wire. The division is not out of reach yet, but the Giants have to take this momentum and move it forward.
With their first win under their belts, the Giants can feel even more relaxed -- or at least tell us they are -- as they try to build off of that victory. There is a long way to go and a tough road ahead.
For now, though, they're finally on the right path and clearly happy to be there.
Right, Coach Coughlin?