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Defense keeps Giants in NFC East race


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Two victories after six defeats and only a two-game gap between first and last place in the NFC East has a lot of people pondering where the Giants stand as they head into their bye week. Antrel Rolle, safety, defensive captain and locker room spokesman, today weighed in on that topic.

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"When it's all said and done, we're 2-6," Rolle said. "We won our last couple of games, which is a great thing. Are we back? We'll be back once we reach that postseason. That's when I'll say that we're back. Right now, we're grinding. We're grinding, we're fighting extremely hard and, you know, being 0-6, like I said several times before, can do a lot of things to you. I've had to dig extremely deep, had to be so mentally tough to overcome it, because I've never been in that stage in my life, either. Right now, as a team, we're grinding. We're grinding and we're pushing ahead and, more importantly, we're staying together. Coaches, players, we're just looking forward to better days."

If the defense continues to play as it has, they will surely enjoy at least some success over the season's final eight weeks. In a 15-7 defeat of the Eagles yesterday in Philadelphia, the defense did not allow a touchdown for the second game in a row, stretching their streak to 10 consecutive quarters. That enabled the Giants to win a game without scoring a touchdown for the first time in 11 years (Sept. 22, 2002 vs. Seattle).

"I feel good about what we've been able to accomplish the last two and a half games on defense, and hopefully it's something that we continue to build on," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "But we have a long way to go, obviously, not only just because of our record but on defense, too. There are still things that we need to improve on and we'll go through this bye, get a little bit healthier, and hopefully come back and make sure we continue to improve."


When they were 0-6 and preparing for their game last week vs. Minnesota, the Giants' defense was ranked 24th in the NFL in yards allowed (391.3 per game) and 32nd and last in scoring defense (34.8 points a game). Two games later, they've improved to 17th in yards allowed (344.3) and 28th in scoring (27.9, a ranking that would be better had not the punt unit given up its third and fourth touchdowns of the season the last two weeks).

The defense has improved and one reason for that is contributions the unit is getting from players who played little or weren't here when the season began. That group includes cornerback Terrell Thomas, safety Will Hill and linebackers Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams, all of whom played significant roles against the Eagles.

Thomas, who has made a remarkable comeback after missing the previous two seasons with a twice-torn right ACL, played only one defensive snap when the Giants lost to Philadelphia on Oct. 6. Yesterday, his 11 tackles (10 were unassisted) were more than twice as many as any of his teammates were credited with, and his sack and forced fumble of Matt Barkley – recovered by Williams – was one of the game's key plays.

"The way I introduced it today, he was one of the game ball recipients and it was, 'Welcome back Terrell,'" coach Tom Coughlin said. "He played well. That play he made in that particular situation, knocking that ball out when they were in point blank range (the Eagles had a first down at the Giants' two-yard line). That was a denial of touchdown, field goal, whatever it might be, and to have that ball recovered the way it was, an effort play like that was a very good thing."

"I think the coaches did a great job of putting me in a situation where I can just play football, utilizing my size and speed," Thomas said. "I was able to make some plays for our defense, and I thought Prince (Amukamara) and Trumaine (McBride) did a great job allowing me, Antrel, and Will, to just roam back there and make tackles. We just had a solid day of defense."

That's become the norm since halftime of the game in Chicago on Oct. 10.

"On defense, we were adjusting too much and just not playing fast and I think the second half of the Chicago game, we saw how good we can be if we simplify things," Thomas said. "I think we were trying to do too much at times, as a coaching staff and as players. Once we got to a stage where we could simplify things and play a lot faster and play with our eyes and speed and talent, you could see the results on the field."

The addition of Hill has helped. He missed the season's first four games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.  Since his return for the first Eagles game, he's been a fixture at the back of the defense. Yesterday, his first career interception sealed the victory with 11 seconds remaining.

"He's made a strong contribution," Coughlin said. "He's worked hard and he has tried to go about his business the right way. In other words, to prove the quality of person that he is, rather than talk about. He's not one to volunteer a lot verbally, but he loves football and he's a very good football player. Interestingly enough, the more you ask him to do, the more he can handle. He doesn't miss many special teams plays and he started and played the whole game, played very well, had the pick at the end when they were trying to get it to 10 (DeSean Jackson). He's gone about his business, and we'll stand by him and we encourage him. I think he feels a great deal of responsibility to his teammates now and hopefully that will just continue to grow."

Beason arrived in a trade with Carolina on Oct. 4 and has taken such command of the defense it seems he's been here four years instead of for four games. The three-time Pro Bowler had four tackles yesterday, when he continued to demonstrate his leadership skills and enthusiasm.

"He's upbeat, has that personality, an outgoing personality, a very confident personality," Coughlin said. "He's had success in the game. He loves the game. He speaks with an aura of authority of having been there. I think the players have responded well to his aggressive style.  Let's face it, he's an aggressive football player. He's looking to make hits and tackles and I think the players have responded to that."

Williams played a limited role early in the season but he was on the field for the entire game yesterday. He made one of the day's best plays, leaping over Barkley to secure the fumble Thomas had forced just before the ball bounced out of bounds.

"That's probably as well as Jacquian has played," Coughlin said. "That fumble recovery that he made, that was as good a play (as you will see). You talk about the timing and when you talk about that, you have to talk about Terrell."

Yes, there's a lot to talk about regarding the Giants defense. And if the unit keeps playing as it has, the conversations will be good ones.

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