Giants D posts performance for the ages

There have been many great defenses that have graced the Giants Stadium turf, and even more great defensive performances, none of which will soon be forgotten. The 1986 team immediately comes to mind. They blanked the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 11th, 1987, led by the play of Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and Giant greats Harry Carson and George Martin. Their goose egg propelled the team to Super Bowl XXI where they became a ‘championship' defense.

Or how about the 1990 Giants, who put up a dominant regular-season shutout – 20-0 – over the run-and-shoot Detroit Lions on November 18, 1990? They later went on to win a playoff game over the Chicago Bears at Giants Stadium, 31-3, en route to winning Super Bowl XXV.

And then there was the 2000 unit that shut out the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship in January of 2001. That victory lifted New York into Super Bowl XXXV.

Well, it wasn't quite a playoff game, and it didn't turn out to be a shut out, but the Giants' 17-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday will go down as one of the most dominant defensive performances of all-time. The unit limited Dallas to only one field goal, if you take away the gift touchdown Drew Bledsoe received courtesy of an Eli Manning interception with 4:14 to go in the third quarter. That gave Dallas a first-and-goal on the Giants' 7-yard-line. The Cowboys had almost half as many punts (7) as first downs (16) and only 206 total net yards in the contest.

"Is this one of the great defensive performances I've been around? When it really mattered, yes," middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "When you're talking about all the things that are on the line right now, for our defense to go out there and play dominant and physical for four straight quarters and at the end of the game still be out there and stop them, yes."

All that was on the line was the NFC East title, a home playoff game, and possibly even a first-round bye. But, with all of that hanging over them, New York's resilient defense sacked Drew Bledsoe four times, intercepted him twice and continually bruised and battered the 12-year veteran. In fact, the Giants' defense, which, although not a finesse unit, relies greatly on its speed, made Bledsoe look both too old and too slow to make a difference. And afterward, he sounded like a beaten man.

"I felt like basically today, for the first time all year, I really felt like the other team just played better than we did," Bledsoe lamented. "I'm talking offensively, their defense against our offense. They played better than we did."

That could be the understatement of the year. The Giants defense repeatedly rescued their inconsistent offense, and even staked them to a 17-0 lead when Pierce scooped up a Bledsoe fumble just 10 seconds into the second half and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown.

"I had the easy part," Pierce smiled, "I only had to run 12 yards. Give a lot of credit to my defensive front because today they played their butts off. They were keeping guys off us, making plays at the same time, and that's where it starts. When you have a dominant performance, you always have to talk about your defensive line."

And the defensive line deserved to be the focus of attention. Osi Umenyiora picked up where he left off in the Seattle game, sacking Bledsoe for a six-yard loss late in the first quarter. Michael Strahan also came up with a pair of timely sacks, one that pushed Dallas completely out of field goal range.

Third-round draft pick Justin Tuck even got in on the action, sacking Bledsoe for a seven-yard loss on the Dallas 22-yard-line early in the second quarter and causing a fumble that was recovered by fellow defensive linemate Kendrick Clancy, who caused the fumble that led to Pierce's TD.

But there was plenty of excellence to go around the Giants' defensive unit. There was Brent Alexander's interception, which effectively ended the competitive phase of the game. Or rookie James Butler's timely pick. Anyway you slice it, this was a special defensive performance.

And the defense thrived on the revved up crowd that saw Giants Stadium transformed into a sea of towel-waving Giants blue and red. Interestingly enough the crowd was revved up by the play of the defense. It was a synergy that has not existed since the playoff games in January of 2001.

"Our crowd today inspired our players," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "I could tell on defense that they were looking for it and they got it."

Down the stretch the crowd kept making noise, and the defense kept making plays, never quitting. On one particular series, early in the fourth quarter, Umenyiora made an incredible play for a defensive end, even evoking memories of Lawrence Taylor, when he chased down Julius Jones from behind after a two-yard gain. Three yards would have gotten a key first down. On the next play, Bledsoe fired incomplete to end the threat.

Then, with 2:32 remaining in the game, Kendrick Allen stuffed Julius Jones for a one-yard loss, just one play before Alexander made his crucial pick.

"I wanted it to be on the defense today," said Pierce, who finished the game with seven total tackles, one pass defense and the fumble recovery for the touchdown. "It tells you about the kind of team we have on defense here. Guys are making up their mind not to give up and keep finishing for 60 minutes."

Strahan, who says this unit, "can be a championship defense," knows a little about the subject. He was a rookie on the 1993 team that featured the great Taylor. He was also a major part of the 2000 version that pitched zeroes against the Vikings in the championship game. And he was one of the focal points in the huge win against the Cowboys last Sunday, a defensive performance that will go down in the annals of Giants' history.

"You know what, under the circumstances, and under the pressure, definitely (this performance ranks up with some of the great ones)," Strahan said. "This season we started out rough and I could actually say, ‘this is probably one of the worst defenses I've ever been on' the way we started the few games we had earlier on. But, it seems everybody has taken a lot of things that have happened to us throughout the year personally and guys have been lights out, and guys have trusted each other and that's why I think we play better.

"Today's performance was absolutely amazing and tough up front and the linebackers and also the defensive backs. Everybody had a good game."

And the performance will not soon be forgotten.

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