"We got the win and that's great," Tuck said. "But I don't like how we finished this game at all."
Technically, they finished it fine. They won the OT coin flip, marched down the field against the black-and-red tissue paper the Falcons are using for a defense and kicked the winning field goal. But Tuck was referring to the way the Giants' defense finished the fourth quarter, with Atlanta scoring two touchdowns in the final 6:07 of regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime. That's the part of the game that should alarm Giants fans as they size up the season's final six weeks.
|More From NFL FanHouse
|Gay: Chargers Blow Up Broncos
George: No Tears, Just Truth for Jets
Colts Defense Leads Them to 10-0
Stafford Guts Way to Detroit Win
Packers' Defense Hurting
Raiders Stun First-Place Bengals
Steelers' Special Teams Bomb
As Coughlin said, the Giants did a nifty job against Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and tight end Tony Gonzalez for the first three quarters. They got good pressure on Ryan and ran all kinds of looks to neutralize Gonzalez, more than once dropping Tuck or another defensive lineman into coverage against him. But when it came time to stop the Falcons from moving the ball down the field, a Giants defense that couldn't stop anybody during the four-game losing streak that led into last week's bye looked woeful.
"We knew, when it was a one-touchdown difference (with 6:07 to go), we had to keep the ball on offense," Coughlin said. "We didn't."
But that's kind of harsh, Coach, to put that on the offense. The Giants outgained the Falcons 456-352 in total yards in this game. On that final series, Brandon Jacobs was out of the game with a knee injury (he said afterwards he was fine and could have re-entered the game in OT if necessary) and the Giants did still move the ball 27 yards and run 2:01 off the clock before punting the ball back to Ryan. Hanging Atlanta's game-tying drive on the offense for giving them back the ball makes it sound like you're giving short shrift to Eli Manning and his 384 passing yards.
That wasn't it, though. Coughlin actually had high praise for Manning, saying, "When he is playing with that kind of confidence, the whole team really rides right along." What Coughlin was really saying when he said the offense had to keep the ball (whether he meant it or not) was that he didn't trust his defense to get the stop. And that's a problem.
"It's something we've definitely got to rectify," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "The last two games, that's happened to us on the most important drive of the game -- against San Diego to lose the game and (Sunday) to tie it up."
Which is why everybody was watching that overtime coin flip so closely.
"Once we won the toss," linebacker Michael Boley said, "I had no doubt in my mind Eli and our offense were going to take the ball down the field and score."
Problem is, if Atlanta had won the toss and elected to receive, the Falcons would have been fully justified in having the same exact feeling.
Now look. The Giants did win the game. They are 6-4 and a game behind Dallas in the East. The Cowboys obviously have their own problems, and the Eagles theirs. Heck, if the Redskins had held on against Dallas, they'd only be two games out of first in the supposedly big, bad NFC East. The Giants are by no means in a place from which they can't come back and make the playoffs.
But I say the emperor has no clothes. They're not going to face a roll-over defense like Atlanta's every week. They go to Denver on Thursday night, where the Broncos are going to need a win badly. Then the two weeks after that feature tough divisional games against the Cowboys (who ran for 250 yards against them in a Week 2 loss) and the Eagles (who own them and know it). The Giants are going to have to figure out a way to stop somebody somewhere in the next month, or they are going to find their season in serious trouble.
It's not going to be easy. They still haven't replaced injured safety Kenny Phillips (hence the defensive ends in pass coverage, etc.), and to hear the players in the locker room talk they're very concerned about how they're going to replace injured linebacker Antonio Pierce.
For a day, the Giants got to feel like winners, which they badly needed. ("It's been miserable around here for a month," Coughlin said.) But with a defense like the one they're running out there on a weekly basis, that's a feeling they're going to have a hard time finding again for much of the rest of 2009.