- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPNNewYork.com
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Justin Tuck has seen it happen too many times.
The New York Giants play a 1 p.m. game against a struggling opponent they should have their way with. And yet the Giants come out in lackluster fashion and sleepwalk through the first half before fighting for their lives in the second.
It happened last year when the Giants lost at home to the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and struggled to beat then-winless Miami Dolphins. And in 2010, the Giants needed Tuck to deliver an impassioned plea at halftime to wake them up against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We've had a tendency to come out [in a] lull," Tuck said when asked why the Giants' early struggles against inferior opponents. "I don't know. We are kind of guarding against that this week."
Actually, Tuck said the "guys are on alert" because the Giants face the winless Cleveland Browns (0-4) on Sunday.
The Giants cannot afford to take any team lightly, let alone start off slow and find themselves in a dogfight with the Browns. At 2-2 and already 0-2 in the NFC East, the Giants have to win every game they can with the heart of league's toughest schedule remaining.
Losing to Cleveland would be devastating since the Giants have to travel to San Francisco next week for an NFC Championship rematch. That starts an 11-game stretch in which the Giants play either a playoff team from last season or a division foe.
So even though Cleveland has been competitive against the likes of Baltimore and Philadelphia this season, the Giants simply must take care of business at home.
"This is a must-win for us," wide receiver Victor Cruz said.
Coach Tom Coughlin opened the week by reminding his team what happened the last time the Giants faced the Browns as defending champions. Back in 2008, Cleveland spoiled the Giants' 4-0 start and handed them a 35-14 loss -- the Giants' lone defeat in their first 12 games that season.
"I remember," Coughlin said of that loss in Cleveland. "There are a lot of them in the room who don't remember, they don't have any recall of that. I mention it to those that were here. Along with the fact that at one point, we were 11-1 and we only had the one blemish."
The Giants' defense needs to be the tone setter on Sunday afternoon. Perry Fewell's squad has to suffocate a Browns' offense that is spearheaded by a 28-year-old rookie quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and a rookie running back (Trent Richardson).
After allowing LeSean McCoy to run for 123 yards on Sunday night, the Giants must plug their leaky run defense and jump-start their pass rush.
By stopping Richardson, the Giants can get after Weeden, who has been sacked nine times and thrown seven interceptions. It might be the perfect remedy for the frustrated trio of Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. The Giants' star rushers have a combined 3.5 sacks through four games.
Pierre-Paul admitted that he isn't having fun this season and needs to get back to having fun like he did last year when he terrorized quarterbacks for 16.5 sacks.
"I am not having that much fun either," said Tuck, who is still searching for his first sack of the campaign.
"Yeah, I suck," Tuck later added.
This is a game in which the Giants can't afford to come out slow and suck the life out of MetLife Stadium. Coughlin's team has to play like the defending world champions and excel at home, where the Giants have lost to Dallas and needed a huge fourth-quarter comeback to beat Tampa Bay.
In both games, the Giants found themselves trailing by double digits early in the third quarter. Dallas led 14-3 and Tampa held a 27-13 lead over the Giants not long after halftime.
Tuck knows the home crowd will grow restless if they let the Browns hang around on Sunday. But he and the Giants repeatedly cautioned that the Browns are much better than their record indicates.
"We are going to have to play our best game," Tuck said. "This is a talented football team. They had Philly beat, they had Baltimore beat. They had three or four good teams beat if you take one or two plays away in those games. I fully expect this to be a dogfight."
Of course, the Giants should be used to that happening in these sleepy 1 p.m. games at home against an opponent with a mediocre record or worse.
Tuck has seemingly tried everything he can to prevent the lackluster starts in these type of games.
He's open to suggestions.
"You know us," Tuck said practically shaking his head. "We like putting ourselves in nail-biters."
With the struggling Browns in town, the Giants can't afford another 1 p.m. flop.