Rock covers the New York Giants. Previously covered college sports and outdoors.
If a game like Sunday's had taken place in the last few years, all the reporters who cover the team would have known whom to approach afterward. Antrel Rolle, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Deon Grant or any of the other veterans who were able to speak for the defensive unit from the perspective of leadership would have delivered the key soundbite. They were guys who had been around a while, seen enough and had the clout to be able to criticize the performance without sounding whiny or accusatory.
Someone who could stand up and say what needed to be said: This was unacceptable.
But there wasn't that go-to player for a quote after Sunday's 52-49 loss in New Orleans. And maybe, in the big scheme of things, that's why the Giants' defense put forth one of its worst performances in the 91-year history of the franchise.
Scrappy and opportunistic and gritty are good qualities, but eventually someone needs to plant his feet and decide that enough is enough. The Giants' defense does not have that player in the locker room, and they certainly did not on the field against Drew Brees and the Saints.
The closest they could come to it was Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, responsible for the only defensive touchdown of the game with a big hit that led to Trumaine McBride's fumble recovery for a touchdown. He said he'd never felt so helpless against an opposing quarterback.
"Not like that, just to have somebody just do what they want to do to you at will and we have no answers for it, don't stop it," the cornerback said after the game. "I can't explain that. I don't know what happened."
Brees completed 40 of 50 passes for 511 yards and seven touchdowns.
There were a few players who spoke to the greater dysfunction of the performance. Giants safety Craig Dahl calmly noted: "It wasn't our greatest performance on defense." Linebacker Jonathan Casillas added: "We didn't play that well on defense We had chances, our offense played a helluva game and the defense didn't execute a lot. We didn't play complimentary ball at all."
They're supposed to be supporting players with supporting voices, though. The players on the current Giants roster who might have had something substantive to say were all on the sideline or back home in New Jersey. Captain Jon Beason did not play with an ankle injury. Prince Amukamara is out with a pectoral injury. Jason Pierre-Paul is Jason Pierre-Paul. That left the Giants with a skeleton crew to handle the Saints and the explanations of the breakdowns afterwards.
Just how bad was the performance?
New Orleans gained 614 yards, the second-highest total ever by a Giants opponent and the most since 1943 when Sid Luckman threw seven TD passes against them and Chicago gained 682 yards. The Bears threw for 488 yards in that game, which was the previous record for most team passing yardage against a Giants team until Brees obliterated it with 511. The previous record of 444 passing yards by a single quarterback against the Giants was set by Dan Fouts in 1980. The Saints' 36 first downs were the second-highest total ever for a Giants' opponent, two shy of the 38 the Los Angeles Rams had in 1966.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brees had a perfect passer rating when targeting Jayron Hosley and Trevin Wade. They were targeted 11 times, allowing 11 receptions for 216 yards and four touchdowns.
"I'm not going to give you a lot of adjectives to tell you how I feel about not stopping them," Tom Coughlin said.
More significantly, it wasted one of Eli Manning's best games in the NFL. He became the first quarterback in NFL history NFL to throw six touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game . . . and lose.
Yet it all seemed to be shrugged off. Almost expected. At the very least tolerated.
"It's never a feeling of helplessness," Damontre Moore said. "We had aggression. It was just assignment stuff."
And safety Landon Collins was somehow able to latch on to the few slivers of respectability the defense showed, like the return for a touchdown and a three-and-out in the fourth quarter.
"To win championships we have to be able to do stuff like that," he said. "We did, now we have to continue that."
No yelling and screaming. Not even a lot of frustration. Maybe the Giants need to hear the gruesome adjectives that Coughlin held back. More likely, one of their players needed to deliver them - along with a play or two to slow down the Saints or the Bucs or whoever is left on the schedule.
Who is fiery and respected enough to do that?
The Giants just don't have that voice on defense right now. And it shows on the field.