EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Now that's more like it.
The New York Giants have a reliable defense again, and, OK, so it's one game. But look what happened in that one game, a 31-18 waxing of Carolina, and you can envision these guys as division contenders again.
I mean, they did what they did not do a year ago. They sacked the quarterback. They stopped the run. They forced fumbles. They made interceptions –- three in the end zone, no less. In short, the Giants' defense played the pivotal role in the team's first victory in its new stadium -- which is how it must be if Big Blue is to return to the top of the NFC East.
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"That kind of gave you a flashback to when we were really rolling and playing good defense," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "It was definitely a good feeling."
It was certainly a better feeling than watching this club dissolve down the stretch a year ago when the Giants allowed 41 or more in three of their last four starts –- including a 41-9 loss to these Carolina Panthers. Those Giants stunk and seemed demoralized. These Giants are energized and supposed to be playoff candidates.
And they played like it in the second half Sunday.
But before we start crowning them Super Bowl-worthy, let's be honest, folks: There's a lot of work ahead for everyone, and that includes the defense that took over the second half of Sunday's game. Eli Manning had as many interceptions (three) as touchdowns. There was no first-half running game. The special teams stunk. And there were a couple of hiccups by the defense we're here to celebrate.
I think back to the end of the first half when, up 14-9, the Giants allowed Carolina to breeze 50 yards in 42 seconds and score a go-ahead touchdown when Steve Smith split the middle of the secondary. Good defenses do not collapse at the end of halves, and the Giants think they have a good defense. But, c'mon, guys. That can't happen.
|The absence of RT Jeff Otah was felt on offense, but even that can't explain the disappearance of the Panthers' interior offensive lineman. QB Matt Moore took far too many hits and the team abandoned the run early in the second half. If Carolina doesn't jump out to a lot of early leads this year, they may struggle to reach .500.|
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This was Matt Moore and the NFL's youngest team, for crying out loud. What happens when, say, Peyton Manning stares them down, which is what happens next week? Or Tony Romo? Or Matt Schaub? Or Brett Favre? They're all on the schedule, and they all figure to play better than Matt Moore who, it should be mentioned, shredded these guys for three touchdown passes the last time they met.
This time around, Moore wasn't sacked in the first half and was reasonably effective, completing half of his 14 passes –- and that's with star tackle Jeff Otah out of the lineup. Carolina's backs were even better, producing 83 first-half yards, which is how things should shake out if the Panthers are serious about challenging New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC South. Plus, Carolina led 16-14 at halftime.
But look what transpired afterward, and the signs are encouraging for Giants fans. I don't care so much about the Manning interceptions as I do about the Moore interceptions. The Giants stopped him three times with pickoffs in the end zone –- two in the fourth quarter –- and don't tell me that's not an improvement because it is. Because this is a team that last season had 14 interceptions and 25 takeaways all last season.
It had three interceptions and a fumble recovery Sunday. It also forced a Moore sack in his own end zone, with the quarterback's fumble recovered by teammate Jordan Gross, and I mention that because the sacks that disappeared the second half of last season were everywhere the second half of Sunday's game.
The Giants had four –- more than in each of 10 of their last 11 games last season –- and absolutely shut down their opponent in the second half. Four of Carolina's last six series ended with turnovers. Four had no more than three snaps. And all produced 72 yards and no scores. In fact, the only points the Panthers produced in the second half weren't scored by Moore or the offense at all. They were the result of a blocked punt, with the ball rolling out of the end zone for a safety.
The key was stopping the run. Carolina is built around its rushing attack and defense, and the running game that worked so well in the first half stalled in the second –- with Carolina producing six yards rushing the last two quarters. That forced Moore to throw –- especially after the Panthers fell behind —- and you saw the results. Carolina produced 10 points and three interceptions in five series inside the Giants' 20.
"The defense bailed us out," coach Tom Coughlin said.
But that's the way it's supposed to be around here. At least, it has been for years. But that run ended last year when the Giants gave up more points (427) in any season since 1967 and dropped eight of their final 11 games. That cost defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan his job, got several of his players fired and put Coughlin on notice that this cannot ... and will not ... happen again.
And it didn't.
But let's not get carried away. It's one game and, as defensive end Justin Tuck pointed out, this is a Giants team that last year started 5-0, allowing 23 points in the final three wins. Then New Orleans put up 48 on them. Arizona hit them for 24. Philadelphia dialed up 40, and the bottom fell out.
I think you get the idea. But defense was back for an afternoon, and hallelujah. It's about time. Now, you, me and the New York Giants need to see more than a half of good football against Carolina.
"I see a huge difference [in this defense]," said Coughlin. "We played the run much better. We were very conscious of gap control. We tackled better. There is a lot of pride here, and I think we prepared well."
Which is how it must be.