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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Justin Tuck saw it on the faces of his teammates. More importantly, he felt something very different about the New York Giants on Sunday night before their game.
Tuck turned to his defensive line coach, Robert Nunn, and did his best Phil Collins impression.
"I just feel it in the air tonight," the defensive captain said.
After all the talk about a leadership void, Tom Coughlin in crisis mode and the Giants being more dysfunctional than any cast on "The Real World," the defense played like its season was on the line.
|Jay Cutler, Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie. Didn't matter. Justin Tuck and the Giants hit anybody who lined up under center.|
And the Chicago Bears, specifically quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Todd Collins, had no idea what hit them, over ... and over ... and over again.
With several of their best players in the house being honored for the new Ring of Honor, the Giants' defense collected 10 sacks, knocked out two quarterbacks and pitched a near shutout in a 17-3 victory over the previously undefeated Bears.
After losing their previous two games, the only thing in the air around the Giants for the past two weeks was controversy, swirling like trash floating around the old Giants Stadium.
Coughlin's grip on the team was questioned by critics and even by his former star running back, Tiki Barber. The leaders of the Giants had been grilled daily like suspects on a "CSI" television show. And after losing their heads with 11 penalties in a meltdown against Tennessee last week, Coughlin's head would have been placed on a platter by more critics this week with another horrendous loss.
"If the ship was going to sink, we were going to sink with it," Tuck said.
Fittingly, Michael Strahan and Jessie Armstead delivered inspirational speeches to the team and the Giants answered by delivering a classic defensive effort that surely made Bill Parcells smile, wherever he was on Sunday night.
The Giants (2-2) stopped their bleeding by turning the page back a few years on a night when they honored so much of their history. They pummeled the Bears with the type of performance that made it look like it was 2007 all over again in East Rutherford.
They played for Coughlin. They played for many of their legends who were honored. And mostly, they played for themselves.
"[Coughlin] has our back and we didn't like what we heard," Osi Umenyiora said. "We couldn't allow that. We weren't playing with no fire or we weren't passionate about the game ... we can't have people saying that about our football team."
The Giants held the Bears to an anemic 110 total net yards. They gave Cutler a concussion. And Mike Martz's offense looked downright pathetic.
Tuck said the atmosphere around the team felt like a "quiet storm" before the game. Once the Bears took the field, Perry Fewell's defense looked like a Big Blue hurricane.
Umenyiora whipped around the edge as if Winston Justice were trying to futilely block him on that September night in 2007, when Umenyiora sacked Donovan McNabb six times and the Giants collected a dozen sacks against the Eagles.
Cutler knows what McNabb felt like. He just might not remember it.
Umenyiora sacked Cutler three times and forced two fumbles in the first half. Cutler was dropped nine times for a loss of 55 yards. He was drilled by Tuck twice. Every time Cutler dropped back, he was practically under siege. On the second-to-last play of the half, Aaron Ross blitzed from the left side and flattened Cutler from the blind side. Cutler hit the turf hard and it didn't look like he wanted to get up.
He didn't return after halftime. Cutler left with eight completions for 42 yards along with an interception. Collins wasn't any better. He completed just four passes for 36 yards before he was knocked out after being slammed by Michael Boley in the back in the fourth quarter.
The Giants lost their leading sacker entering the game, Mathias Kiwanuka, to a bulging disk that was part of the neck ailment that came out of nowhere on Friday. But even so, they were knocking out quarterbacks as if a bounty had been placed on the Bears.
Oh, how Bears coach Lovie Smith must've wished Fewell were on his staff instead of on the other side. Fewell, who interviewed with the Bears before taking the Giants' job this year, played mostly two linebackers on the field with five defensive backs. He rotated rookie Jason Pierre-Paul in, shifted Tuck inside at times and let Umenyiora do his thing on the edge. The Giants' defensive coordinator largely had three safeties on the field and they helped hold TE Greg Olsen, WR Devin Hester and RB Matt Forte to a total of 10 receptions for 62 yards.
The defense intercepted the Bears twice and allowed the Giants to survive any mistakes made by their other units. It didn't matter if rookie punter Matt Dodge couldn't punt or RB Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled again.
The Giants defense was lights-out. Just ask Cutler.
"Tonight, there was just something special," Tuck said.
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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