Eli Manning was right.

Eagles/Giants Part I was just another game. It was more than 3 weeks ago, and the Eagles won at home, and all it served to do was set up Eagles/Giants Part II, with both teams at 9-4.

The Eagles have gone 2-1 since, with a hiccup on a sloppy Soldier Field, without star cornerback Asante Samuel, with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler firing an out-of-body four touchdown passes.

The Giants lost to the Eagles, still reeling after a spanking at the hands of the Cowboys. They then beat a good Jacksonville team, a foundering Redskins club and, on Monday night, in a game moved from Minnesota to Detroit, they beat the Vikings, sans Brett Favre.

So, how 'bout them Giants?

The jury decidedly remains out, even in the Giants' locker room.

"Well," coach Tom Coughlin said on a conference call, "we have a team that is striving to be as good as we can be. We've won three games in a row, which has given us some confidence and some things to rely and build on."

They can run, and their No. 2 defense can stop it, and they can hold on to the ball.

Well, they had been holding on to the ball. Manning threw two interceptions in the Giants' first three possession against the Vikings. That gave him 19, the most in the league and one shy of his career high, with three games to play.

"Well, you're observing and you're watching and you're seeing. Nobody wants the interceptions," Coughlin said. "We started out talking about the fact that we did not want to turn the ball over."

Turnovers turned the tide against the Eagles 4 weeks ago. Manning threw three picks and fumbled, goofily, at the end of a fourth-quarter run.

He seemed to have settled in the next 2 weeks, but then came the Monday night game.

"We had done really a good job the 2 previous weeks, with the exception of one error, and we wanted it to stay that way," Coughlin said.

Two of Manning's errors in the teams' first game landed in the hands of Samuel, who injured his knee returning the second interception.

Samuel has not played since, though he nbriefly practiced last Wednesday. If Samuel plays Sunday, he surely will not be 100 percent.

Then again, the Giants probably won't be 100 percent, either. They spent 2 days on the road, sitting around, waiting for their game against the Vikings to be rescheduled after the roof of the Metrodome collapsed this weekend under the weight of a heavy snowfall.

They played Monday night, giving them a short week in which to prepare for the biggest game of their season. They arrived back home at 4 a.m. yesterday, which will limit their work today.

Coughlin acknowledged that "we aren't in our normal routine," but that they should be fine by the end of practice today. Not that an extra day wouldn't help.

Receivers Steve Smith (hamstring) and Mario Manningham (hip flexor) likely will be limited all week after suffering injuries Monday – and will have one fewer day in which to heal.

But Hakeem Nicks, whose absence rang loudly against the Cowboys and Eagles, is back, and both Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs rushed for more than 100 yards against the Vikings.

Will any of that matter? Coughlin doesn't know. Neither does Manning.

They're only happy that, after suffering two straight division losses that dropped his club to 6-4, the Giants still matter 13 games into the season.

"That's where we are, and it is of huge significance," Coughlin said. "These are the kind of games you want to be playing in the middle of December in the National Football League." *