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Giants' defense finds its identity

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) and New

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) and New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck (91) combine to stop Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44) short of the goal line during the first half. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

It's easy to point to the fact that the quarterbacks shut down by the Giants' defense in the past four victories were named Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor and -- in Sunday's 27-13 win over the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers -- Scott Tolzien.

Murderers' Row, that lineup of QBs is not. But after an 0-6 start in which the Giants yielded an average of 34.8 points per game, the alternative -- four straight wins and only two offensive TDs allowed -- is far preferable.

Tolzien connected on a bunch of long throws and totaled 339 passing yards, but that was negated by interceptions by Jon Beason, Antrel Rolle and Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned his 24 yards for the game-clinching score in the fourth quarter.

With Dallas and quarterback Tony Romo on the horizon, it's fair to say the Giants' defense has regained its identity, and not a moment too soon. "Definitely," cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "No doubt. And more than anything, I think the offense knows our identity. Look, if you don't have any turnovers, we're a great defense. We can make teams go three-and-out; we can create turnovers and give you the ball."

As Thomas sees it, it's no coincidence that Eli Manning has thrown only two picks during the winning streak after tossing 15 in the first six games. "I think Eli had a lot of pressure on himself early in the season when we didn't really have a running game and he was trying to make every play,'' Thomas said. "But now we kind of took that onus off him and said, 'Hey, put it on us.' "

The Giants were clinging to a 10-6 lead in the third quarter when linebacker Beason stepped out of the shadows to pick off Tolzien's pass and return it 9 yards to midfield, leading to a field goal. Beason said it came on a play the Giants saw repeatedly in practice.

"We got the play-fake, but I could feel it," Beason said. "I know it's not a run. He never saw me. That was one of those plays where you know that if you get the opportunity, you can get your hands on the ball."

The next pick is destined to become the stuff of legend. The Giants led 20-13 when Pierre-Paul declared in the huddle his intention to pick off a pass. Justin Tuck shrugged it off as one of the "off-the-wall things JPP says from time to time. Then, when he picked it, if there was a camera that had me in the picture, I don't even run after him or celebrate. I'm literally in awe. I don't know if he's voodoo or psychic, but that's something I've never seen before."

Rolle got the third pick on an overthrow to snuff Tolzien's last-gasp attempt to rally the Packers, but his mind was on Pierre-Paul's game-turning play. "That's one of the best plays I've ever seen," Rolle said. "The guy is freakish. When you make a play like that, it drives the entire team; not just the defense, but the entire team, coaching staff as well."

New York Sports