Up until yesterday, believe it or not, I refused to believe the New York Giants were for real. When Jim Fassel guaranteed a playoff berth last year, I scoffed. When they subsequently made the playoffs, I blamed it on the weakness of the NFC East. When they stormed through the playoffs and humiliated the Vikings in the NFC Championship game, I said it was a fluke. I felt vindicated when the Baltimore Ravens trounced them in the Super Bowl.

But on Sunday, despite falling to the St. Louis Rams, the Giants made me believe. They showed me that they are indeed the real deal, a playoff team, a contender for the title of World Champion. They nearly beat a St. Louis team that had looked unstoppable coming into this game. The Rams had beaten, with the exception of the hapless Detroit Lions, three major playoff contenders in the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and Miami Dolphins.

I had predicted that the Rams would humiliate the G-men, crush them, grind them into blue and white dust beneath the pounding gears of their offensive machine. Instead, the Rams needed a fourth quarter touchdown from backup running back Trung Canidate to squeak by the Giants, 15-14. Michael Strahan was a monster on defense, driving Kurt Warner into the turf play after play, four times for sacks. Even the seemingly deified Marshall Faulk looked entirely mortal against the New York defense. Before leaving the game with an injury, he fumbled twice and got nowhere close to finding the end zone.

The Giant offense also looked surprisingly good, as Ron Dayne ran for 88 yards and a score. Even Kerry Collins, whose name I’ve never thought was worth the ink it’s printed with, looked good. If not for a late bobble by Joe Jurevicius, the Giants would have won. Heck, they SHOULD have won.

So, without further ado, I’ll say the words I swore on the soul of Ottis Anderson I would never utter: Watch out football fans, these Giants are good. They are, to reiterate my colloquialism, the real deal.

Other Week Four Highlights

Baltimore at Green Bay: If anyone doubted that Brett Favre was the best quarterback in the NFL, he can now set aside their skepticism. The resilient field general led his team to a 31-23 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, throwing for 337 yards and three touchdowns. It was very much a role reversal for these two teams. While Favre was running around the field completing pass after pass, Ray Lewis was nowhere to be found. While the Pack aired it out, the Ravens were frustrated by Green Bay’s surprising defense. If not for Randall Cunningham entering the game due to an injury to Elvis Grbac, the score would have been 31-10.

San Diego at New England: Who would have thought that Drew Bledsoe would have to worry about job security? Then again, who would have thought that Tom Brady would win an overtime battle with Mr. Clutch himself, Doug Flutie? Who would have thought Bill Belichick would let Terry Glenn even step on the field, let alone catch 7 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown? I thought the game was over when Flutie got the ball with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Maybe the California sun has taken all the moxie out of the miracle-maker.

New Orleans at Carolina: You’ve got to feel sorry for Jeff Blake. Aaron Brooks showed again on Sunday why he is the franchise quarterback in New Orleans, marching the Saints 82 yards in the game’s last 1:44. After Carolina returned a punt all the way with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter to take the lead 25-20, Brooks masterfully moved New Orleans downfield with just one timeout. After a 22-yard completion to Joe Horn on the 5-yard-line and two Carolina penalties, the Saints found themselves on the 1-yard-line with one second left. From there the answer was simple: hand the ball to the other cornerstone of the franchise, Ricky Williams. Somewhere in the CBS studios, Mike Ditka is crying.

Random Thoughts

San Francisco 37, Atlanta 31: Montana to Rice. Young to Rice. Garcia to Owens.

Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 14: Corey Dillon causes defensive Brown-out.

Tennessee 31, Tampa Bay 28: Titans earn Eddie-fying first win.

N.Y. Jets 21, Miami 17: Miracle in the Meadowlands II: Fiedler’s Bogus Journey.

Chicago 20, Arizona 13: Does anyone remember the Super Bowl Shuffle?

Pittsburgh 20, Kansas City 17: Pittsburgh leaves Vermeil Green in the face.

Minnesota 31, Detroit 26 Batch throws for 345 yards and 3 TDs and they still lose?

Seattle 34, Denver 21: Ricky, it’s time to find new Watters to swim in.

Monday Night Preview: Washington at Dallas

And I thought last week was bad. ABC acknowledges that this is the worst game, recordwise, in the history of Monday Night Football. Believe me, it’ll be as bad as it looks. Do laundry. Read a book. Watch baseball. Spare yourself the pain, even if you are from Washington or Dallas. Cowboys win, only because I have to make a prediction, and they’re playing at home: 10-6.