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Giants' defense needs to play well for both halves this time

Safety Michael Thomas of the Giants celebrates after

Safety Michael Thomas of the Giants celebrates after a tackle in the fourth quarter during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 22, 2019. Credit: Getty Images/Mike Zarrilli

Daniel Jones’ impact on last week’s game against the Bucs was so strong that he wasn’t only giving the offense a boost. The defense felt it, too.

“Daniel came in and he showed sides that he hadn’t shown before,” safety Jabrill Peppers said of the rookie quarterback inspiring the defense on the sideline. “Great leadership, getting us pumped up, telling us to make sure we get him the ball back. I hadn’t seen that side of him before.”

Added safety Antoine Bethea: “He definitely gave us a spark.”

Peppers is familiar with that sensation. He was on a Browns team last year that made a switch at quarterback early on — in that case, Tyrod Taylor was injured and Baker Mayfield entered a game against the Jets — and nearly rode the rookie to the playoffs. Having a player of such prominence as the quarterback reinforces belief is a powerful weapon for any team.

At some point, though, the Giants defense knows it will have to return the favor. As magical as Jones’ first start was with the comeback from an 18-point halftime deficit and the missed field goal at the end to secure the victory, it would be nice to have a more mundane victory.

That’s why the defense needs to start protecting Jones.

“We’ve got a rookie quarterback,” Peppers said. “We’ve got to try to give him the greatest field position possible. Don’t let him go out there with a 10-point, 14-point deficit. Just come the way we’re supposed to and keep games close in the first half.”

So far that’s been the biggest obstacle to success this season. The Giants have allowed 70 combined points in the first half, which is more than 17 other teams in the NFL have allowed in total. One of those teams, the Packers, has played four games already.

The Giants are one of only two teams in the NFL (with the Ravens) to have scored on all three of their opening drives, but they have never led at the end of a first quarter. That early momentum has so far always been squandered. In their three games this season, the halftime deficits have been 14, 14 and 18 points.

“We played much better on defense as a whole in the second half,” Pat Shurmur said of last week’s win, in which they held the Bucs to three points after halftime. “What we have to unlock is how we start games that way.”

Giants players said last week’s turnaround was less about scheme than psychology. They said they were “fed up” and decided they needed to put an end to their struggles. Maybe it was that simple.

“I think it’s crazy that it was the same guys out there but it was two completely different halves,” Bethea said. “I think we came out in the second half with a completely different sense of urgency. It was just tighter coverage and guys were doing their job a little bit more.”

Now they have to try to maintain that Sunday vs. the Redskins at MetLife Stadium They have to begin a game the way they ended the last one. The last two, really.

Last week it was enough to allow Jones to produce one of the great comebacks in Giants history, one of the most remarkable in NFL history. It was just the second time ever the Giants overcame a halftime deficit of at least 18 points, something they did on Oct. 30, 1949, when they trailed the Chicago Cardinals, 28-7, before winning, 41-38.

In other words, it’s something that happens about once every 70 or so years. Relying on Jones to do that again is unfair to any quarterback, never mind a rookie who is heading into his second NFL start.

“We have to play a full game,” Bethea said. “With D.J., we can’t always depend on him to come and bring us back from a deficit. In the defensive room, we have to come out and start the game better than what we have been doing. We have to put a whole game together.”

Jones has already bailed out the defense in epic fashion. They owe him at least one because of it.

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