- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009

The New York Giants sacked Tom Brady five times to stun the perfect New England Patriots and win Super Bowl XLII two seasons ago. Last year, that fierce defense was even better as New York finished with the NFC’s best record. As the Giants started 5-0 this year, the defense allowed just 64 points.

That all seems like ancient history.

The Giants (7-6) enter Monday night’s game against the Washington Redskins having lost six of eight while surrendering an average of 32.4 points.

Last week, in a critical NFC East home game against Philadelphia, Eli Manning passed for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns as the offense produced a season-high 512 yards. But the Giants still lost 45-38, albeit with the special teams and the offense allowing a touchdown apiece.

“You shouldn’t lose games when your offense scores 38 points,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “It’s disheartening. I don’t know what we’ve got to do to change this around, but we just aren’t playing good defensively right now.”

Added fellow end Mathias Kiwanuka: “This game falls squarely on our shoulders. We failed big time.”

Only four teams - Kansas City, Detroit, St. Louis and Tampa Bay - are giving up more points.

The Giants built their 5-0 record largely against bad teams - the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Redskins and Oakland, who own a combined 12-40 record. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he isn’t sure his team was worthy of the hype it received.

“I didn’t know if we had really been tested to the extent that was going to come,” Coughlin said of the just-completed eight-game stretch in which the Giants played seven teams that now have winning records.

The most baffling aspect of the defense’s demise has been the pass rush. It once was the pride of the Giants, racking up 52 sacks in 2007 and 42 last season even without Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. This season has been a far different story: The Giants have 26 sacks even though Umenyiora and Tuck have played every game.

“I haven’t been able to put my finger on it,” Umenyiora said. “It’s always something.”

New Orleans began the Giants’ tailspin with a 48-27 rout in Week 6, bombarding the secondary for 369 yards. Two weeks later, the Eagles rushed for 180 yards on 24 carries.

Last Sunday, the Giants had no answers for the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson, whose 178 receiving yards were the most by a New York opponent in 12 years.

“It’s not just one thing,” Coughlin said, emphasizing his support for embattled first-year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. “We’re not getting in a lot of long-yardage situations, and when we do we don’t have a great record of getting people off the field. We aren’t getting to the quarterback. … Some of it is simply we don’t get enough depth right off the bat. And in many cases the ball simply gets lost deep down the field.”

The Giants lost their top safety, Kenny Phillips, for the season in Week 2. Linebacker Antonio Pierce, the leader of the defense, was lost during New York’s ninth game. And now cornerback Corey Webster (knee) and safety Aaron Ross (hamstring) are hurting. Neither practiced Friday.

Yet the Giants still are in position to secure a playoff berth.

The Cowboys and Giants will enter the regular-season finale tied if Dallas loses to the unbeaten Saints on Saturday, New York beats Carolina and both teams beat the Redskins.

And, in that case, if the Cowboys lose to the Eagles on the final weekend, the Giants wouldn’t even have to beat Minnesota to earn a wild-card spot.

Still, Tuck said the Giants feel like they’re in must-win mode already.

“I think that we are because of the fact that we haven’t played great ball,” he said. “Even if we do make the playoffs, you don’t want to go into the playoffs limping. You want to go in with the confidence, knowing that you kind of righted the ship and are playing your best ball at that point in time.”

It has been a long time since the Giants have played their best ball.

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