By Larry Fine
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Raising your record to 3-6 would not seem like much cause for celebration but such is the weakness of the NFC East, the New York Giants are still clinging to postseason hopes after beating the Oakland Raiders 24-20 on Sunday.
Sparked by the return of running back Andre Brown, who ran for 115 yards and a touchdown, the Giants scored the last 10 points to overcome a 20-14 third-quarter deficit and register their third win in a row.
It was Brown's first game in almost a year after his 2012 season ended prematurely with a broken leg and another break in the same limb in pre-season saw him miss New York's 0-6 start.
"We don't make it easy on ourselves but we found a way to win," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We're trying to go one game at a time and see where we are. We just made another notch closer."
With upcoming home games against the Green Bay Packers, who are down to their third-string quarterback, and division-leading Dallas Cowboys, who already have four losses and face a stern Sunday night test in New Orleans, the Giants would be in the thick of the race if they can win the next two.
On Sunday, it was big mistakes rather than big offensive plays that led to scores.
The Raiders took a quick lead on a fumbled opening kick off. The Giants ran a blocked punt in for a score. The Giants fumbled deep in their territory to give Oakland more points, but they recovered a fumble from Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Both teams had big interceptions and long returns.
New York's stabilizing factor was Brown, who helped fuel the team's growing optimism with a stirring performance.
He was an instant workhorse, running the ball 30 times, picking out openings and bulling forward for extra yards to give the Giants a dimension they have not fully enjoyed this season.
"I'm a little sore, my back," Brown told reporters after sauntering up to the interview room podium.
"Cold tub it up, use a little salt," he said. "I hope it won't effect me too much tomorrow."
Brown, whose one-yard touchdown late in the third quarter put New York into the lead for good at 21-20, said he was surprised to get so many carries.
"Thirty times?" he said, adding he probably had not run the ball that much since his sophomore year at North Carolina State. "It felt like 50. But running the ball the way we did, got to keep it rolling."
Even without the two leg breaks, Brown's career has not been an easy ride.
After being drafted by New York in the fourth round in 2009, he bounced around with several teams before his rookie year ended with an Achilles tendon tear.
"He gave us what we needed, gave us a little spark out there, there's no doubt," said coach Coughlin. "Perseverance does pay off."
Brown, stepping in after a neck injury put starter David Wilson out for the season and another injury felled emergency replacement Brandon Jacobs, said he received inspiration from cornerback Terrell Thomas, another returning Giant.
Thomas, who missed the last two seasons after ACL tears in his knee, set up Brown's touchdown with an interception of a Pryor pass he returned 65 yards to the five-yard line.
"Last week he won NFC Defensive Player of the Week," Brown said, adding that he sought Thomas out on the sideline after the touchdown.
"Guys like that you feed off. He said, 'Just keep pounding it, running the rock'."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)