- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

The New York Giants are one of just five NFL teams to make the playoffs in each of the past two years. The Giants hadn’t accomplished that feat in 16 years and had done so just three times since 1963.

And yet, the Giants have been under siege since their 23-20 wild-card loss to NFC East opponent Philadelphia on Jan. 7.

c Coach Tom Coughlin, who fired offensive coordinator John Hufnagel before the season finale, was given a one-year contract extension through 2008. Coughlin promptly dismissed defensive coordinator Tim Lewis.

c Retiring running back Tiki Barber, the offensive linchpin who retired after that game and who had ripped Coughlin after a 2005 playoff shutout by Carolina, criticized the coach and quarterback Eli Manning in his new book. The usually circumspect Manning fired back at his ex-teammate.

c Defensive end Michael Strahan, the NFL’s active leader in sacks, went through a messy, public divorce and skipped training camp while toying with retirement.

Oh and there’s that little — make it Giant — matter of the 0-2 start.

“I wouldn’t expect anything along those lines, but this is where we are and this is what we have to deal with,” Coughlin said. “We have to be realistic and practical and try to fight our way out of it.”

New coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense has been shredded for a league-high 80 points along with an NFC-most 846 yards. NFC East foe Dallas, which outlasted New York 45-35, and Green Bay, which pulled away for a 35-13 victory, converted 12 of 22 third downs.

“We don’t have much pressure on the quarterback to this point and therefore we’ve given up some chunks in the passing game,” Coughlin said. “Nothing real long … the 8- and 10-yarder, we’ve allowed people to do that to us. Then, of course, there would be a strike down the field or perhaps a pass interference penalty. We do have to get this thing back under control.”

But with consecutive games against division rivals Washington and Philadelphia ahead, the Giants could be sunk by Columbus Day.

“The mood is what it would be like with an 0-2 team,” middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “You’re just looking for something positive to happen. Just being in New York and people are starting to talk about your coach and talking about this or [that] — you just can’t worry about all that stuff.”

Coughlin, bland when his team is winning and testy when they’re losing, said his defensive players should be defensive about the criticism they’re receiving.

“Anybody else that feels any differently in the locker room … probably ought to look into another profession,” he said.

As if to prove his point, Coughlin soon snapped at a question about the defense’s struggles with opposing tight ends, saying, “Do you want to argue about coverage? Is that what we want to do now?”

While all of this melodrama has been happening, New York’s offense has been rolling despite Barber’s retirement, a knee injury that has sidelined replacement Brandon Jacobs into October and Manning’s shoulder injury against the Cowboys that threatened to knock out the new focal point for up to a month.

Running back Derrick Ward, who had 35 carries in his previous three years, is averaging a superb 6.4 yards. Receivers Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress and tight end Jeremy Shockey, who hadn’t played together in the same game since October, have combined for 31 catches and four touchdowns. Manning, grittily not missing a start, has a 97.5 passer rating. The line has allowed just two sacks in 72 drop-backs.

“They haven’t had any problems moving the football,” Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “We’re playing the best offensive group so far this year that we’ve played.”

And Pierce found another glimmer of hope in recent history.

“Last year we were 1-2, then we played Washington and wound up winning five straight [starting with that 19-3 triumph],” Pierce said. “If we can go there and get a win that will build confidence and that will start turning things around.”

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