The Giants are back, apparently. In the span of a couple of hours Sunday, they found themselves after a nearly two-month hiatus. Against the Dallas Cowboys, they recovered their emotion, their pride, their swagger, their ability - things that had been missing as they dropped back to earth, losing five of their previous six games after starting the season with such promise at 5-0.

At least that's what they told the media after sending Dallas home with a 31-24 loss on Sunday.

"We're all in," defensive end Justin Tuck said afterward.

Certainly, the Giants' win over the Cowboys was huge. It was New York's first season sweep of their most hated rival since 2004, and it resuscitated a season that was on the verge of dying.

After looking strong in early games, New York had been playing dispassionately, acting more like a team that was rebuilding - think St. Louis or Detroit - than one that considered the Super Bowl the goal.

Imagine, for a second, if the Eagles had played four straight games like they did against Oakland, broken out of that lifeless funk for a game, and then slipped back into it for one more game. That's what happened to the Giants - for what reason, no one seems to be able to discern.

And then, after Tom Coughlin benched defensive end Osi Umenyiora and tackle Fred Robbins, and Brandon Jacobs ran as if he was trying to knock over the Statue of Liberty, the defense finally stopped the Cowboys' running game. The Giants are back in the hunt.

"I would like to take that second set of games and do something different about it, but we can't," Coughlin said yesterday. "We did start out very well with the five wins, we didn't do as well over the course of the next few. Hopefully, we have dealt with some of those issues . . . .

"The reason that [this] is the NFL, and the reason it is so meaningful to be division champion, and, of course, Super Bowl champion and world champion, is because it is a long grind. Over the course of that season, so many things can and do happen that normally the best team is the champion."

True enough. But the Giants aren't out of the danger zone just yet, and to suggest otherwise would be foolish and shortsighted, because if anyone should be the front-runner to emerge from the NFC East as the champion, it's the Eagles. Not the Cowboys. And not the Giants.

The race might be tight, with three teams separated by just one game and plenty of big divisional games to play, but the Eagles have been the most consistent of late. Even with injuries to the linebacking corps, even with their most consistent playmakers, Brian Westbrook and DeSean Jackson, sidelined with concussions, the Eagles have found a way to win three straight games.

The Birds sit at 8-4, tied with Dallas, because they've overcome their issues. Dallas beat the Eagles here Nov. 8 and the rematch is Jan. 3 in Dallas. It's far from where the Eagles want to be, but they are in the best position to make a run.

The Cowboys have a history of flopping in December. The franchise is 18-32 after December since 1996, and Tony Romo is 5-9 in December games. That history is unavoidable.

The Giants beat the Cowboys, yes, but their issues remain. Eli Manning might be healthy, the defense might be fixed, the offense might have found its groove again, but they could revert to the team that lost to New Orleans, Arizona, the Eagles, San Diego, and Denver.

We'll see on Sunday.

"We know we have a tough road ahead, and it starts with Philly next week," Tuck said Sunday night. "They embarrassed us down there, and we have a lot to prove, and I think we will be completely engulfed in the next team this week and focus on them."