NFC East: New York Giants
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Like the vast majority of NFL players, New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell is not a doctor. But he has been talking with a lot of doctors lately about the condition of his neck, and he offered a disappointing diagnosis when asked about it Friday.
"It's in pretty rough shape," Donnell said. "It's going to be a while before I'm able to play again."
Donnell has missed two games with his neck injury and has already been ruled out of a third, this Sunday in Washington. He used the word "broken" to describe what's going on in his neck Friday. While the team has offered no official diagnosis and Donnell seemed to be trying to be careful about details, NJ.com has reported that Donnell may have a small fracture in a bone in his neck. This surely would be a reason for extreme caution.
"There's a chance I could play again this season, but this is not an arm, not a foot," Donnell said. "This is my neck. I've broken arms, broken legs and I knew they were broken. This is a neck, so we just have to be really careful."
Donnell said he wasn't concerned about any long-term effects beyond football -- that he's been told the injury will heal on its own with time. But it certainly seems likely that he'll be placed on season-ending injured reserve at some point in the coming days or weeks. With Daniel Fells already out for the year, Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham are the only other active tight ends on the Giants' roster. Rookie Matt LaCosse is on the practice squad.
In addition to Donnell, left guard Justin Pugh (concussion) and linebacker Mark Herzlich (quad) have been ruled out for Sunday's game. Center Weston Richburg is listed as doubtful with a high ankle sprain and hasn't practiced in two weeks other than some very limited work Wednesday. He's unlikely to play, which would leave Dallas Reynolds as the only center on the active roster. Rookie Shane McDermott, a teammate of left tackle Ereck Flowers' at the University of Miami last year, is the center on the practice squad and could theoretically be promoted to back up Reynolds if Richburg is out. John Jerry would start at left guard in place of Pugh.
Linebacker J.T. Thomas, who continues to struggle with an ankle injury, is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
Cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (pec) and Leon McFadden (groin), defensive end Damontre Moore (hamstring), guard Geoff Schwartz (ankle) and linebacker Uani Unga (neck) all are listed as probable. Amukamara has missed the past five games but is expected to return this week.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He has missed five games with a pectoral tear he initially hoped would only cost him two. His team is in first place and has a game Sunday against one of the teams that's a game behind them. He himself had a huge game with these two teams played earlier this season. So yes, New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara is determined to be on the field Sunday in Washington.
"I feel like I'm ready to play four quarters of a football game," Amukamara said after Giants practice Monday. "I feel 100 percent. I'm ready to go."
Amukamara has been practicing with a brace on his left shoulder to prevent his arm from extending too far backward and risk worsening the partial tear of his pectoral tendon. He's likely to have to play with some sort of brace Sunday, though maybe not the exact one in which he's been practicing. But he said it takes him no time to get used to the brace and that it's not limiting him at all.
"If I had any doubt that I might injure myself more, or if the doctors did, I wouldn't be out there," Amukamara said. "I don't feel any restrictions. I can run pretty good, jam pretty good... it's just all about protection."
The Giants may be getting healthier on defense, with Jason Pierre-Paul set to play a third game in a row following his return from his hand injury and linebackers J.T. Thomas and Uani Unga both back at practice Monday. Defensive end Damontre Moore is dealing with a hamstring injury but was able to run on the side Monday and do some team drills.
On the offensive line, however, things are a little more uncertain. Left guard Justin Pugh, who missed the Week 10 game due to concussion symptoms that came back on him the day of the game, is in the concussion protocol and was not at practice Monday. His status for Sunday is in doubt, as is that of center Weston Richburg, who has a high ankle sprain. Richburg said he was doing everything he could to be ready for Sunday, but he still hasn't been able to run.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ereck Flowers is a great big, 21-year-old grouch. It's one of the things the New York Giants like best about their rookie left tackle, but it can still take them aback when they see it firsthand.
"I'll tell you a funny story," Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Monday. "Do you know he got mad at me when I worked him out before the Buffalo game?"
You may (or may not) remember that Flowers sprained his ankle in the Giants' Week 2 loss to Atlanta, missed the Week 3 victory over Washington and was listed as questionable in advance of the Week 4 game in Buffalo. Because the team didn't know whether he could play, Flowers had to work out on the field before the game with Flaherty and team trainers. This is standard operating procedure, but when Flaherty went to get Flowers for his pregame workout, the 6-foot-5, 325-pound rookie scowled and asked why.
"He said, 'I'm fine. I'm playing,'" Flaherty recalled. "So I said, 'That's great, but the procedure is that we take you out on the field, the trainers watch you do some drills and they decide whether you're OK to play.'"
Flowers eventually went and did the workout, frowning the whole time. The training staff was satisfied and Flaherty gave Flowers the good news that he was cleared to play.
"He just stared at me," Flaherty said. "But wait! It gets better."
Flowers lasted literally one play that day before coming out of the game. He hurt the ankle on the first play and went to the bench to get it checked out again. The team called him questionable to return. Justin Pugh went over to left tackle, John Jerry went into the game at left guard and Flowers sat on the bench looking like he wanted to just punch the whole world in the face.
"So I sat down next to him and I said, 'We didn't activate you to play one play. Your ass is going back in there the next series,'" Flaherty said. "And he perked right up. First time all day he smiled."
Flowers did indeed go back in and played the rest of that game and has played ever since, even though he's still not 100 percent with the ankle. His rookie year has been an up-and-down one in terms of performance. He's still refining his technique and struggling to maintain consistency with it throughout the game. He had a rough time, as many people have, with Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones on Sunday. More rough days await, as do more successes.
One of the things the Giants liked about Flowers when they made him the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft was his nasty attitude. As a reporter who's tried to get something out of him in an interview, I've seen it firsthand. He has no use for the media process whatsoever. So it's funny to hear that he can be the same way with his coaches and trainers. The key is that the attitude translates to the field, where Flowers has shown a level of meanness and toughness that's likely to serve him well. He appears to disdain opponents as much as he disdains injuries, and the Giants dig both sensibilities.
"He wants to play. He wants to work. He wants to learn. He wants to be great," Flaherty said. "And I think he will be. I really like his attitude."
As Flaherty found out that day in Buffalo, Flowers has a lot of attitude to like.
The New York Giants made six selections in the 2015 draft. Here's a closer look at how their picks have contributed:
2015 draft class:
On the cusp: Third-rounder Owamagbe Odighizuwa could be a contributor on the defensive line if he could remain healthy. The Giants had high hopes for him as an immediate contributor in run defense, and he flashed a bit early, but he's now on injured reserve and not eligible to return until Week 17 at the earliest. Sixth-rounder Geremy Davis has impressed on special teams and could be a replacement for Rueben Randle at receiver next year if the team doesn't re-sign Randle.
Undrafted free agents they like: Stony Brook's Will Tye was the team's starting tight end in Week 9 because of injuries to Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells. He's not currently a threat to usurp Donnell's starting role once Donnell is healthy, but the Giants believe they can use him even once Donnell's back, particularly in their two-tight-end packages.
My take on the class: Flowers and Collins have been pressed into more significant early duty than they should have been, because of the Will Beatty injury and the complete lack of other options at safety. They've both performed like rookies -- some good, some bad. Flowers looks as though he has the talent to be a starting left tackle in the league, and if so he's a great pick at No. 9. Collins doesn't look as though coverage will ever be his strength, and he might end up having to move to linebacker. The rest of the class is a mystery still, because of Odighizuwa's and Mykkele Thompson's injuries. Bobby Hart is a project lineman, and the Giants haven't done well with those lately.
Mel Kiper's take on the class: Collins has dealt with growing pains, but he was asked to take on a big role immediately, something we knew would happen when they drafted him. He has plenty of promise. They didn't expect Flowers to be thrust into the role he's in, and while he's struggled in spots, I think they're happier with him than they expected to be at this stage. The biggest question is whether Collins and Flowers can make strides and stay healthy? Get that from both, and you're pretty pleased with this class.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning's math is indisputable.
"If we win these next six games," the New York Giants' quarterback said Monday, "that would guarantee us a spot in the playoffs."
This is true. Though just 5-5, the Giants do sit in first place in the NFC East entering their bye week. Because of that, should they win the six games that remain on their schedule, no one in the division could catch them. Now, that may sound like a tall task to you and me, and it may well be impossible. But it was the thought that Giants coach Tom Coughlin wanted his team to take with it into its late-season break.
"When we come back, there's only six games left, and at this point in time we do lead the division," Coughlin said. "That's what we've always talked about -- the most direct line to where you want to go is right through the division. There's so much incentive here for our team that I can't possibly imagine not grasping this opportunity and going with it."
The taste in the Giants' collective mouth Monday was understandably bitter. Coughlin spoke of "remorse for opportunity lost" a day after Stephen Gostkowski's 54-yard field goal deprived the Giants of a victory over the unbeaten Patriots. The players and coaches all spoke Monday of the number of games they've given away late, been unable to finish. And in truth, they have had chances to win every game they've played but one.
"We've had some chances in some of those games to come out on top," GM Jerry Reese said. "We didn't do it, and we're 5-5. We're on top. The division is going to come down to a couple games at the end probably, and we want to be one of the teams in that conversation at the end."
The bye week has come late for the Giants this year -- as late as the schedule will allow. Coughlin hinted at the idea that his team may be tired having gone this long without a break. Safeties coach Dave Merritt spoke of rookie safety Landon Collins hitting a wall, and surely Collins is not the only player on this young Giants team about whom that could be speculated.
But there's no arguing the fact that the Giants have delivered maximum effort and intensity for their games. And while the results haven't been what they would have liked, the Giants can draw on their "almosts" as proof that they can compete with anyone. They can confidently enter each of their final six games believing they'll be in a position to win it, and the idea that they only need to make one or a couple more plays to turn some of these agonizing losses into wins is an idea to build on.
"I led off the meeting by saying that it's a very disappointing loss but great competitors stand up," Coughlin said. "We have a lot of work to do and many, many opportunities out there. That's the way we're going forward."
When the team returns a week from now for practice, Coughlin's mission is to draw the great competitor out of each of his players and help them find ways to go that one extra step they too often haven't been able to take. Can they do it? No way to know. But unlike each of the previous two seasons, the Giants know at this point that they have a chance, and that the games they play down the stretch are going to mean a great deal.
They shouldn't need any more motivation than that.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin's lament is that of a coach who's used to competing for the highest prize there is.
"Just get the game over with. We had the ball in the end zone that's knocked out of the hands. You have a chance to intercept the ball in the middle of the field and we don't catch the ball. Very frustrating loss."
Coughlin's frustration is understandable, and his bewilderment befits a coach who has won two Super Bowls and believes his job is to win one every year. I'm just not sure the 2015 Giants are the kind of team of which such things should be expected.
Should they have won Sunday's game? Of course. But is it crazy to think a team with so many key players in their first and second NFL seasons would fail to find ways to finish? Of course not.
Odell Beckham Jr., a brilliant player who has now participated in a grand total of 22 NFL games, had this one in his hands but couldn't complete the catch in the end zone. Landon Collins, a struggling rookie safety who has played 10 NFL games, had this one in his hands and dropped it. This is not, as we discussed all week, the Giants team of 2007 or 2011, which surrounded Eli Manning with hardened champions who'd been through tough times and knew what it took to win. This is a team, Manning excepted, that's still learning how to win. And learning can hurt.
"It's a matter of executing," Beckham said. "It's a difference between being 9-1 right now or 10-0 or 5-5. If you look back on it, I don't think there's any reason why we couldn't have been 9-1 or 10-0, whatever the case may be. That being said, it's going to be good."
It may well be good. These Giants have a bye and then six more games, and they're smack in the middle of a real playoff race. At 5-5, they lead the NFC East by a half-game over both Philadelphia and Washington. Should those teams both win next week, there would be a three-way tie for first with six games to go, and the Giants have a game left against each of them. That opportunity is all you can ask, and it's possible that all the missed opportunities of this season so far -- Dallas, New Orleans, this latest one here -- can harden and galvanize a young Giants team in time for them to win big games down the stretch.
"I saw a lot of guys in here that were down when I came in after the game," veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "And I said, 'If you take nothing away from this game, take away that we went out and fought with the best and had a chance to win. That lets you know we can fight with anybody.'"
They can. They've proved this. The Giants are in every game they play. Because their defense is so shaky, so is their opponent. That makes for exciting football, but it also builds character. These Giants have shown they can fight and overcome. That will pay off down the road. Given the state of their division, that payoff could come as early as next month.
"It's one thing to believe," linebacker Mark Herzlich said. "It's another thing to feel like, 'This is going to happen.'"
And yet it's another thing to actually see it happen. Beckham needs to tuck that ball away so the cornerback can't swat it out of his hands and allow it to come down to the NFL's byzantine catch-not-a-catch rules.
"He'll learn," Coughlin said.
Collins needs to have the presence of mind to realize he's all alone in the middle of the field, and that he doesn't need to outjump a receiver for the game-sealing interception. He said he had the ball in his hands but hit his head on the ground when he landed.
"I had it, then the next thing I know, I'm looking up at DRC and I don't have it," said Collins, who was checked for a concussion after that play.
He'll learn, too. They all will, and truthfully they're better and more competitive at this point. When you're a coach who has won two Super Bowls, it can be frustrating to look at your young team and wonder why it's not doing the things your great veteran teams used to do. But once things quiet down, Coughlin knows what he has and doesn't have.
And if you're a Giants fan, as tough as Sunday's loss was, you have to be happy with the season this team has given you so far -- and with the fact that it's going to last a good while longer.
QB Eli Manning. He's just playing at a very high level right now. Without a running game, without much protection, Manning is throwing the ball with extreme precision and giving the Giants a chance to win any game they play. He was 24-for-44 for 361 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday. He came agonizingly close to a third touchdown that would have put the game away. As he always seems to, he outperformed Tom Brady in a game in which that was the Giants' only chance to win, and he couldn't have done any more than he did.
LB Jasper Brinkley. It took injuries to middle linebackers Jon Beason and Uani Unga to get Brinkley on the field, but he's been a revelation since taking over that starting role. He brings an element of speed that the other two did not, and Sunday he had 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble... basically was right in the middle of an inspired Giants defensive performance, and the breakdowns in the second half weren't his fault.
WR Dwayne Harris. Yes, his special-teams gaffe on the Danny Amendola punt return was unfortunate. But as a slot receiver, he's allowing Victor Cruz to take his time healing. Harris had 82 yards and a touchdown on six catches and seems to be able to make and hold onto the toughest and most important third-down catches in the games.
S Landon Collins. Like Odell Beckham, who dropped the aforementioned near-touchdown pass, Collins had the game in his hands and dropped it. He went high to pick off a Tom Brady pass on the final drive, but he hit his head when he landed and lost the ball, allowing the Patriots to continue on their way to their game-winning field goal. Collins owned up after the game and said he needs to make the catch. He was right.
RB Rashad Jennings. Just 39 yards on 11 carries. No run longer than six yards. And he was the Giants' leading rusher by far. The Giants continue to rotate Jennings, Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa, but none of them can get any consistency going, and Jennings is the one who's supposed to be able to help put games away in the second half. They can't run the ball for first downs, can't run it at the goal line, and it's forcing Manning and the passing game to be perfect.
OT Ereck Flowers. The rookie left tackle had a rough day against Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, who upped his league-leading sack total to 10.5. With left guard Justin Pugh out sick and center Weston Richburg leaving in the third quarter with an ankle sprain, the offensive line was banged up, and Flowers didn't have the help he usually has. He's had an up-and-down rookie season, but Sunday felt like a down day overall.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Nobody's going to want to hear about moral victories, or the fact that the New York Giants on Sunday proved they could go toe-to-toe with the best team in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski's 54-yard field goal with one second left gave the New England Patriots a 27-26 victory in the NFL's best game of the year so far and broke the Giants' hearts. Their toughest defensive effort of the year went for naught as the Patriots stayed undefeated.
Eli Manning was outstanding again. The Giants played tough and even took the ball away from the great Tom Brady at the goal line with 6:01 to go in the game. They scored a field goal to take the lead in the final two minutes. And they pinned the Patriots on the very edge of sensible field-goal range.
But Gostkowski got them, and the Giants had to content themselves with coming as close as anyone has to beating the defending Super Bowl champs.
What it means: The Giants fall to 5-5, just a half-game in front of Philadelphia and Washington in the NFC East. Should both of those teams win next week, while the Giants are on a bye, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the division when the Giants show up in Washington two Sundays from now. A win here would have meant some degree of control in a weak NFC East. Now, it's a free-for-all.
What were they thinking? Some fans seemed upset the Giants weren't running the ball at the goal line around the two-minute warning to run more time off the clock. I get that, but their passing game is a heck of a lot stronger than their running game right now, and a touchdown there would have been huge.
One reason to get excited: The Giants recorded three sacks! Entering the game, they had only nine -- the fewest in the league, and fewer than the 9.5 Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones brought into the game by himself. Robert Ayers looked good, and middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley looks like a revelation now that injuries to Jon Beason and Uani' Unga have delivered his opportunity.
One reason to panic: The run game does continue to struggle. Ranked 24th in the league in yards per game and 25th in yards per attempt entering the game, the Giants gained only 80 yards on 23 carries and couldn't run it in at the goal line. They will continue to look for answers and the "balance" on offense that Tom Coughlin always preaches.
Fantasy watch: Odell Beckham Jr. went over 100 yards receiving for the 12th time in 22 career games, finishing with 104 yards on four catches in spite of game-long double coverage and a great defensive effort by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. The highlight was, of course, the 87-yard touchdown that accounted for the Giants' first points.
Ouch: Center Weston Richburg left the game in the third quarter because of a left ankle sprain. He was replaced by Dallas Reynolds, who was called for a false start on his first play and delivered a couple of shaky shotgun snaps on the next two. The Giants already were without left guard Justin Pugh, who was inactive because of illness. Linebacker Mark Herzlich left the game in the fourth quarter because of a quadriceps injury.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In his second game since the July 4 fireworks accident that cost him his right index finger and severely damaged other parts of his right hand, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul briefly changed what he was wearing on that hand. But the change didn't last long.
Pierre-Paul played his 2015 debut last week in Tampa with a heavy, "club" type of wrap on the hand, with his thumb wrapped separately but the rest of his fingers tucked together as though in a mitten. But he said during the week that his hope was to move away from the club and on to some sort of glove at some point soon. He warmed up and began the game with a glove on his hand, but after the Patriots' first offensive possession, he went back into the locker room and changed back to the mitten-style club from last week.
The Giants' equipment staff has been experimenting with different types of gloves configured for Pierre-Paul's hand. He has used some of them in the weight room and practiced with some of them this past week, and he has said his preference would be to eventually ditch the club. But he clearly didn't feel comfortable with the change Sunday, and he quickly switched back.
Pierre-Paul has said repeatedly that his hand does not hurt, but he has had to make some adjustments to technique as a result of the damage. For instance, even from the right defensive end spot, he has to play with his left hand on the ground and rush across his arm, as opposed to pushing off with his right arm as would be preferable.
Pugh's absence is a surprise. He was listed on the injury report all week, but was listed as probable on the Friday injury report, which means he was expected to play. The Giants said Pugh practiced with the team Saturday and was expected to play, but he woke up Sunday and did not feel good enough to go. They said he felt "fatigued."
Pugh was listed on the injury report Wednesday because the team said he'd been complaining of headaches and was being evaluated to see whether he had a concussion. Later that day, they said he did not have a concussion and that his symptoms were the result of dehydration. He returned to practice Thursday but was listed on the injury report with an illness.
Pugh's performance in his first season at guard (he played the last two at right tackle) has been a strength of the Giants' offense. He's worked well in tandem with left tackle Ereck Flowers and with center Weston Richburg in the run game and has been an asset in pass protection as well.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If there's a player in the New York Giants' locker room who knows Sunday's opponent better than anyone, it's running back Shane Vereen, who played for the New England Patriots as recently as February.
"I'm not going to say it's just another game," Vereen said Wednesday. "Obviously, for those guys who were on the team last year, I'm sure it's a little more special. I know for me, it is. But we've got to prepare. We've got to get ready to go this week more than ever. We're going up against the best team we've played so far this season."
Vereen spent the first four years of his career with the Patriots, including last year's Super Bowl championship season, before signing with the Giants as a free agent in March. As the Giants' primary third-down and two-minute-drill back, he has 34 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns to go with his 174 rushing yards. Hes habeen a solid player for the Giants, even if he's still seeking the same kind of chemistry with Eli Manning that he developed over four years in New England with Tom Brady.
"Getting there, getting there," Vereen said. "I had the same quarterback for four years. Haven't even gotten through one year here in this system. So I'm definitely learning, definitely getting to that point. We'll get there."
In the meantime, he gets an up-close look at his former team and hopes that some of what he learned during his time in New England can benefit him and the Giants for at least one day.
"I'm sure it's completely different -- different words, everything," Vereen said. "So my information is probably only good up to a certain point. At some point, their new stuff takes over."
And if there's one thing Vereen learned playing for Bill Belichick, is that he's constantly changing things around to give the Patriots the best advantage.
"Yes, I have practiced against [the Patriots' defense], but at the same time, Coach Belichick is known for switching things up on Sundays," Vereen said. "So, keep my eyes open and just play the way I feel, see what I see and play off of that."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As New York Giants players filtered into the cafeteria for lunch Wednesday, the televisions all around team headquarters were showing a replay of the Super Bowl XLII victory over the unbeaten Patriots. It was appropriate, since the 8-0 Patriots are the Giants' opponents this Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and it was fun to watch quarterback Eli Manning watch himself engineer one of the great game-winning drives in NFL history while surrounded by players who were in high school or college when it happened.
But ghosts and memories don't win games, and as great as it is for the Giants to know they've had the Patriots' number in the Super Bowl, that's not going to be much help to them Sunday. There are only five players -- Manning, Victor Cruz, Jason Pierre-Paul, Prince Amukamara and Zak DeOssie -- on the current Giants roster who played in Super Bowl XLVI. There are only three -- Manning, DeOssie and Craig Dahl -- who played in Super Bowl XLII.
"Different teams from those games," Manning said. "A lot of new faces on their team and our team. You can look at the way the game was called a little bit or just a theme to what was going on, but not much in X's and O's. It's a game. We've got to go out there and play well."
If there's a "theme to what was going on" when the Giants beat the Patriots in those two Super Bowls, it had a lot to do with defensive line pressure. The Giants have sacked Tom Brady nine times in their past three games against him -- seven when sending four or fewer rushers. The key to beating the great Brady has been to pressure, hit and sack him. Teams that go up against the Patriots in big games often reference those Giants teams.
But this Giants team is not those Giants teams. This Giants team has a total of nine sacks -- the lowest total of any team in the NFL. This Giants team has allowed every quarterback it's faced to be comfortable in the pocket. This Giants team has had to blitz to try to get pressure, and if they have to do that Sunday, they know Brady is likely to pick them apart. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Brady is getting rid of the ball more quickly than any quarterback in the league this year. He has 22 touchdowns and two interceptions.
"It's a different group," Pierre-Paul said of the current defensive line. "Me, [Justin] Tuck, Osi [Umenyiora], those were pass-rushers, you know what I mean?"
I do know what he means. So was Michael Strahan, the Hall of Famer who played with Tuck and Umenyiora on the first of the two Super Bowl teams. These were not-messing-around pass-rushers who could consistently win one-on-one battles with their offensive line opponents and allow the Giants to drop seven into coverage with the confidence that Brady wouldn't have enough time to find an open man. The current Giants have guys like Robert Ayers, Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn and George Selvie -- talented fellows in their own right, but not the fearsome, all-out pass-rusher types who live in Brady's Super Bowl nightmares.
Pierre-Paul, though, believes he can make a difference. And to a certain extent Sunday, in his first game back from his fireworks injuries, he did. He got through the Buccaneers' line and got a couple of hits on Jameis Winston in the fourth quarter -- something the Giants haven't done much this season. And on pass-rush downs, the Giants were able to shift Ayers inside with Cullen Jenkins and play Moore on the end opposite Pierre-Paul. The coaches believe that's a lineup that has a chance to generate some pressure.
"A good defensive line has got to be synced," Pierre-Paul said. "We can do that this Sunday. We did it last week. We have to be in sync with each other, and I think we will be. I know we'll get to the quarterback and stop him. I know I will."
Pierre-Paul has a lot of confidence. And it's possible that the history of the Giants against Brady and the Patriots can infuse the entire locker room with a similar confidence. Just don't assume that because they've done it before, they can do it again. The team that did it before was not this team. If this team is going to beat Brady, it likely has to find its own way to do it.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Looking for evidence that the New York Giants' special teams have become a strength of the team? For the second time in three weeks, a Giants player was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
This week the honor goes to kicker Josh Brown, who was 4-for-4 on field goals, including a season-long 53-yarder, in Sunday's 32-18 victory at Tampa Bay. Brown has made 23 field goals in a row (though he did miss one 38-yard extra point attempt earlier this season) and has been one of the Giants' most reliable performers.
This is the third time Brown has won the award and the second with the Giants. He won it in Week 16 of 2013 after kicking three field goals in an overtime victory in Detroit.
Giants return man Dwayne Harris won NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 7 of this season after his 100-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Cowboys.
A look at the highs and lows from the first half of the season for the New York Giants (5-4), and what to expect in the second half:
Midseason MVP: Quarterback Eli Manning is on pace for a fifth career 4,000-yard season, career highs in completion percentage and touchdown passes, and a career low in interceptions. In his second year in coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense, Manning looks comfortable moving around in the pocket and making smart decisions with the ball. One big reason for the Giants' early-season success has been their ability to limit turnovers, and Manning threw only six interceptions in the first nine games. He has never finished with fewer than 10 interceptions in a full season.
Best moment: Rashad Jennings' 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown to seal the Week 4 victory in Buffalo. This came at a time when the Bills were threatening to come back, having just cut the lead to 16-10. It came on third down, so if it hadn't worked the Giants would have had to punt the ball back to the Bills. The play involved a broken tackle and an epic stiff-arm, and was the symbol of a Giants team that so far this year has made a lot out of a little.
Worst moment: The sequence at the end of the season opener in Dallas, when the Giants bungled their clock management and Manning told Jennings not to score a touchdown so the clock would run down as far as possible. The errors there allowed Tony Romo and the Cowboys to march down the field on an overmatched Giants defense and steal a win that would have set a strong early tone for the Giants' season.
Mark your calendar: If the Cowboys can't find a way to stay afloat until Romo comes back from his injury, and if the Giants can keep hanging around .500, the Jan. 3 home game against the Eagles could decide the NFC East title. The Eagles beat the Giants 27-7 in Philadelphia in Week 6 -- the Giants' worst game of the season so far -- and the Giants would love a meaningful chance for revenge.
Key to second half: The Giants could get a big boost from the potential return from injury of four key players. What can defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul give them with his damaged right hand, and can he help create a pass rush by himself? He played in 73 percent of the team's defensive snaps in his season debut, against Tampa Bay. Cornerback Prince Amukamara has to come back from his chest injury. Left tackle Will Beatty's return from an offseason chest injury could shore up Manning's protection. And maybe, just maybe, we'll see Victor Cruz before it's all over.
The New York Giants have beaten the New England Patriots three times in a row. Two of those games were Super Bowls. They haven't squared off in four years and have very few remaining players from the Super Bowl teams. The current Patriots are a pristine 8-0 and the current Giants are a gritty 5-4. But the facts of the present can take a back seat when a matchup rings with NFL history, as this one does.
Will Tom Coughlin, 5-1 all-time against the great Bill Belichick, be able to summon the ghosts of Giants triumphs past and put the first blemish on New England's latest effort at an unbeaten season? Will Tom Brady even notice a Giants defense that's giving up a league-worst 422.8 yards per game? NFL Nation reporters Dan Graziano and Mike Reiss take a look.
Mike Reiss: Let's get right to it, Dan. The Giants have broken the Patriots' collective heart in the past. How equipped are they to deliver another dagger and who might be catching a football on his helmet in this game?
Dan Graziano: I haven't seen Odell Beckham Jr. catch one on his helmet, but if a crazy catch is going to be made, he's the best bet. Thing is, beyond Beckham and Eli Manning, this isn't an offense loaded with playmakers. And the defense has been a complete mess, allowing quarterback after quarterback to march right down the field on them in fourth quarter after fourth quarter. I'm sure you saw Drew Brees do it two weeks ago, throwing for 505 yards and seven touchdowns. The Giants haven't been able to stop top-level quarterbacks such as Brees, Tony Romo or Matt Ryan when it has mattered, and the way Brady is playing right now, I have to think a victory here would be Coughlin's most unlikely Patriots-related trick yet.
Plus, the Patriots seem to be playing with a bit of an edge after the offseason of Deflategate. How much of what they're doing is fueled by us-against-them anger or motivation?
Reiss: This has a different feel to me than Spygate in 2007, Dan. You could really feel that every time you walked into the locker room that year. Not so much this year, with one exception: Brady. A part of his legacy has, in some ways, has been called into question and I think it's fair to say that he's as motivated as ever to prove how wrong that is. He's also doing some things differently in terms of media responsibilities, sometimes cutting off his news conferences shorter than the norm after probably feeling he wasn't treated fairly by some. He's locked in and it's hard to miss that edge from him.
Shane Vereen saved his best for last with the Patriots, delivering with a clutch performance in the Super Bowl. After Dion Lewis was lost to a season-ending torn ACL on Sunday, any chance the Giants might consider giving Vereen back to New England? Of course that's not possible, so how has he fit in?
Graziano: The Giants have a clear and definite role for Vereen. He's their passing-down back and their third-down back. It's similar to the role another ex-Patriot, Danny Woodhead, is filling with the Chargers. What's odd about Vereen's year is the lack of consistency in his production. He has had five games with more than 60 total yards and three where he didn't even get 25. He was little-used in the games against the Redskins and Bills, where the Giants led throughout, and he was a nonfactor in the game in Philadelphia where they got crushed. So game flow doesn't seem to portend much. Basically, if their offense is humming the way they want it to, he has a role in it, but only in certain situations.
The loss of Lewis is a tough one, obviously. How do you think that will affect the Patriots' ability to do what they want to do on offense, particularly with regard to those five-wide sets that seem so unstoppable?
Reiss: They won't change much, maybe other than calling fewer screen plays, where Lewis was often dynamic with the football in his hands after the catch. This offense is now 16 years old and they have so much volume to fall back on that losing one player -- other than Brady -- has little impact when it comes to making big-time alterations. Here's something to consider: When the Patriots were without Lewis for their win over the New York Jets on Oct. 25, they played 16 snaps with a four-receiver/one-tight end package on the field. That was a key for them coming back in the fourth quarter. In short, they still have a lot of weapons and can attack a defense in a number of ways.
I get this question a lot: What is it like to cover Bill Belichick? So I want to turn it back to you with Tom Coughlin. We remember him in these parts from his days at Boston College and the word "rigid" comes to mind. How often does he loosen things up with reporters?
Graziano: Not very often. Coughlin's all business during the season, and his news conferences often showcase his impatience with the necessity of the media part of his job. He doesn't mind throwing in a joke or a wisecrack, but before long it's always, "Can I get to practice now?" The nice thing about covering Coughlin is the consistency. You know what he's going to be like every day, when things are going to happen, what you can and can't ask and basically what the answers will be. You can pull him aside if you have a question, and he'll think and give you a thoughtful answer. But if the topic isn't one he wants to discuss (i.e., "How much longer do you see yourself coaching?"), he gets grumpy and hustles away. He's a character, but not an overly colorful one.
He does have Belichick's number, though. Do the Super Bowl losses to the Giants still sting the guys who were involved in them? Obviously, there aren't many (if any) besides Brady and Belichick from the first one. But Belichick is 1-5 against Coughlin, including those two Super Bowls. Does a Giants game feel different up there because of the history?
Reiss: For sure, but the sting isn't as extreme as it was before the Patriots winning another Super Bowl last season. It's a much different discussion if Malcolm Butler doesn't make that game-sealing interception, as you'd have Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse (catching the ball on his back) joining former Giants receiver David Tyree (catching the ball on his helmet) on that list of players not to be mentioned ever again in New England. Brady himself referenced the team's struggles against the Giants earlier this week, and Belichick has respect and admiration for Coughlin, so to me this does feel a little different than a regular week. There aren't too many combinations of teams/head coaches that fit into that dynamic.
Graziano: Should be fun. Thanks, Mike. See you Sunday.