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Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Getting to know Blue in November

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

Less than a week into November, Tom Coughlin is already sick of hearing about how the New York Giants' stock typically drops around this time of the year.

"I didn't see any problems at the end of last season," Coughlin retorted on Monday when asked about the Giants' recent history of November swoons. "You can talk about that all you want with the second half of the season. I don't know what the numbers are and I'm not defending anything. I'm just telling you that the facts are the facts."

After starting last season 6-2, the Giants lost four straight -- including three in November. On Christmas Eve, they launched a six-game winning streak that carried them to the championship.

Justin Tuck
Justin Tuck says heading into the bye week at 7-3 would be "huge" for the Giants.

So here we are again. The Giants entered November at 6-2 and began the month with a stinging 24-20 loss, in which they squandered a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead over the Steelers.

At 6-3 overall, the Giants travel to Cincinnati on Sunday, hoping to take one step closer to figuring out who they are exactly.

Are they the team that dominated San Francisco and Carolina on the road? Are they the team that starts off slow and needs fourth-quarter comebacks, like they did against Tampa Bay and Washington? Or are they the team that struggles when defenses take away Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks from Eli Manning and has difficulty scoring touchdowns in the red zone?

Will the real New York Giants please stand up?

Defensive captain Justin Tuck typically has the pulse of his team. But after nine weeks, even he isn't sure which team the Giants are.

"Not yet," Tuck said. "This team kind of lacks the consistency I think we're capable of. We've gotten away with it in certain games, and other games it's come and bit us.

"There's one thing I know about this team. When we're backed in a corner, we're probably the most ferocious team to come out of that corner. Right now, we're not backed in a corner and I'm hoping and praying it doesn't have to get to that point. I'm hoping and praying we see that sense of urgency now."

That's a lot of hoping and praying. But you can't blame Tuck. He practically has the stats memorized.

The Giants have started 5-2 or better every year under Coughlin since 2004. But they are hoping not to repeat what usually happens from November on. They are 32-40 in regular-season games after Halloween (13-20 in November) under Coughlin, and that includes Sunday's loss to the Steelers.

Coughlin may not want to hear the words "swoon" or "slump." But his two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback is definitely stuck in neutral at the moment.

Manning has just one touchdown and four interceptions in his past three games. And since passing for 337 yards against the Redskins, he has 317 yards in the past two games combined.

In the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh, Manning completed just one of five passes for a yard and was sacked twice as the Giants went three-and-out in their final three possessions.

Coughlin is convinced the Giants can solve their issues.

"I think we can work it out," Coughlin said. "I definitely do. I think it's got to happen relatively fast, to be honest with you. I think it can be solved. I think a lot of it is the individual."

The Giants need to start winning one-on-one battles. Nicks hasn't looked quite like himself as he has made his way back from injuries. Manning and tight end Martellus Bennett have been hit or miss at times. The Giants need more production from a third wide receiver, and the run game has to be more effective.

The Giants have to patch up their run defense and find a way to protect leads. In their past two games, the Giants have blown 23-0 and 20-10 cushions to the Cowboys and Steelers.

The Giants got some fortunate breaks: They needed a 77-yard bomb to Cruz and Dez Bryant's fingertips landing out of bounds to beat the Redskins and Cowboys.

If not for those two plays, Coughlin's team could very easily be 4-5 and riding a three-game losing streak.

"And a handful of plays, we could be undefeated," Tuck countered. "The NFL is so funny that way."

If the Giants can find a way to win in Cincinnati on Sunday, they will be 7-3 heading into their bye week. Then, they can get much-needed rest for injured players and will have six games to sort out their issues and try to put it all together, like they did last season.

If they can beat the Bengals, the Giants will only need three more wins to reach 10 victories with their final six games against the Packers, Redskins, Saints, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles.

But if they lose on Sunday, the Giants will go into the bye at 6-4 and on a two-game losing streak. And the questions about another swoon will only intensify.

"To be 7-3 heading into that bye is going to be huge for us," Tuck said. "[The difference between] 7-3 and 6-4, that's a huge swing."

"We won the Super Bowl last year and didn't win a game in November," added Tuck, whose team actually went 1-3 in November with a win at New England last year. "If you ask me, would I want to win a Super Bowl like that again? Sure. Do I want to go 0-for-November? Absolutely not. Worried about it? No."