It may hurt Rex Ryan down to his vocal cords to admit this, especially with archrival New England looming just ahead next Monday in a showdown that could determine who finishes with the NFL's best record, but the top defense in New York right now doesn't belong to the Jets. It belongs to the Giants.
The Giants just aren't the kind of team to brag like that -- not even after the way their ferocious pass rush closed out Sunday's comeback victory over Jacksonville -- so somebody else might as well say it for them. David Garrard, the Jaguars' battered quarterback, is as good a choice as anyone.
Garrard didn't "scream a little" in pain when he was hit Sunday, which was Giants linebacker Michael Boley's postgame report on the involuntary yelp Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo let out in Week 7 when Boley was left unblocked by rookie Dallas fullback Chris Gronkowski and hit Romo so hard his clavicle broke.
The Giants didn't make Garrard the sixth QB they knocked out of action in 11 games. But after Sunday's game, Garrard admitted the Giants came awfully close to adding him to their list -- something Garrard's good friend, Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, will surely notice by the time Washington visits New York in another huge game for the Giants (7-4) this Sunday.
After driving the Jaguars to the Giants' 29 with just about two minutes to play, Garrard was blitzed and belted by the Giants on the Jaguars' final three plays, and the last one ended with Garrard coughing up a game-clinching fumble. Each time Garrard tried to drag himself to his feet those last three snaps, he got up slow ... then slower ... then slower yet. His shoulder pads were knocked crooked and his jersey was stretched sideways. His teeth were bared and his face was twisted in pain.
On the Jaguars' next-to-last play, Garrard said he was blinking to rid his eyes of the tiny black rubber pellets that the new Meadowlands' field kicks up because someone hit him so violently "my face went into the ground." He also landed so hard on his right wrist he feared it might be broken. He headed for the X-ray room after the game.
Who hit him? "I don't know what happened," Garrard said.
What hurt most? "It feels like I hurt everything," Garrard sighed.
The Giants' defense wasn't nearly as impressive in the first half when Jacksonville rang up big yardage running the ball. But when the Giants' defense plays as it did against Jacksonville after a halftime dressing down from defensive end Justin Tuck, or as well as it did during a five-game winning streak earlier this year, the Giants revive memories of the 2007 Super Bowl team that still had Michael Strahan rushing quarterbacks along with Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
The 2010 Giants' overall defense is better right now than anything the Jets have been able to put together this year. It just doesn't get talked about enough.
Through 11 games, the Giants are ahead of the Jets in the NFL rankings for total defense (No. 2 vs. No. 3), passing defense (No. 1 vs. No. 12) and sacks (31-24). The Jets have allowed significantly fewer points (17 vs. 21.1 ppg) and are marginally better against the run (surrendering 3.4 yards a carry vs. 4.0 for the Giants).
If you compare talent, the Jets' defense has an edge at cornerback with their tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, but it's not an enormous advantage over the Giants' Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas. The Giants' front four is far better than the Jets' defensive front. Jets linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris are better than anyone the Giants have, but new Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's blitz packages, which often use three safeties, have mounted a far better and more unpredictable pass rush. Week in and week out, Ryan has admitted some bafflement that the Jets just aren't getting to the quarterback, or playing defense as well as they did a year ago.
The Giants will need to ride the same get-the-quarterback formula in the last five weeks of the season if they're going to survive the 10-team scrum for playoff spots in the NFC.
Just look at the quarterbacks the Giants have left to face: Two games against McNabb (counting this weekend), a home-game rematch against Michael Vick and Philadelphia, plus games against Minnesota's Brett Favre and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay may be the best team in the NFC right now. The Eagles edged the Giants two Sundays ago but fell back into a tie with them atop the NFC East thanks to the Eagles' narrow loss to the Bears on Sunday.
"That was one of the ones we were hoping for," Boley said Monday, when asked if the Giants are already scoreboard watching.
With the Giants' offense still badly banged up and missing five starters, the defense will have to carry the Giants a few more times to make the postseason.
That's nothing Mark Sanchez and the Jets aren't used to in Ryan's short time in New York. But the Giants' defense wasn't even close to being this good a year ago under then-coordinator Bill Sheridan. Umenyiora had seen enough 40-point embarrassments to rebel at times. And Tuck had seen enough in the first half Sunday against Jacksonville to rip into his teammates to "stop this crap." Defensive tackle Barry Cofield called Tuck's rant a halftime speech "for the ages," and claimed he ran back out on the field with tears in his eyes.
Garrard had the same experience -- for different reasons. The Jets' Ryan might dab away a few tears this week too, if confronted with the fact the Jets don't have the best defense in the NFL anymore and, lately, not even the best defense in New York.
The Giants have it.
Now let's see if the Giants can keep it up. And how far it can take them.