- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Three straight wins are nice, no matter what they look like, but the New York Giants' special teams are still a trash fire and Eli Manning doesn't look right at all. The Giants' defense, however ... they may have a little something going there.
They finally gave up a touchdown on defense Sunday after 10 quarters without allowing one, but even that has to come with an asterisk, since it was on an Oakland Raiders "drive" that started on the five-yard line after Jerrell Jernigan fumbled the opening kickoff. The other touchdown the Raiders scored was on an interception return, and the next time they got near the goal line, the Giants kept them out of the end zone. At the tail end of a long second-half-opening drive, faced with a first-and-goal from the one-yard line, the Giants held and forced the Raiders to settle for a field goal.
"We always talk about, give us a yard, and it's our job to make sure they don't score," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Today we had opportunities to prevent scores, and we did a good job of it."
A touchdown at that point, more than halfway through the third quarter, would have put the Raiders up 24-14 and left the Giants still reeling from Tracy Porter's return of Manning's interception at the end of the first half. Instead, it was only 20-14, and two possessions later Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas intercepted Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor and returned that one to the five. The Giants punched it in three plays later to take a 21-20 lead they would not relinquish.
"We started talking about it at halftime: Who's going to be the guy to make the play?" linebacker Jon Beason said. "We knew it was going to be somebody. We were determined."
They're also a lot more nimble and flexible on defense than they were earlier in the year. Beason's presence, Will Hill at safety and Thomas' remarkable recovery from his third ACL surgery have enabled the Giants to do much more on defense. There were plays Sunday on which safety Antrel Rolle rotated into the middle linebacker position while Beason rolled out to take on a guard or a tackle. The Thomas interception, they all said, was on a play he intercepted in practice earlier in the week. They rotate "spies" on the speedy Pryor in their linebacker corps, with Keith Rivers making an impact for the first time this year. Jason Pierre-Paul got a sack for just the second time in 16 games.
The Giants are clicking on defense right now, and while one must wonder how much the substandard lineup of opposing quarterbacks (Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley and Pryor) has factored into the three-game winning streak, they can only play the schedule they have, and they're doing a fine job with it.
"Our defense rose up in the second half," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Goal-line stand, that was huge. On offense, when we didn't get in, we kicked a field goal and we were fortunate enough because of field position and our defense to be able to hang in there and win the game."
Onward to next Sunday, and a home game against the Packers and third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien. No reason to think the defense can't play another good one.