When the Giants review this season to determine what needs to be fixed first, they won't have to look any further than the tape of their two losses to their NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles.
Coach Tom Coughlin made a lineup change on defense for the second week in a row last night at Giants Stadium, inserting Aaron Ross at free safety with instructions to prevent the kind of big plays the Eagles used to defeat the Giants in the teams' first meeting Nov. 1.
So what happened? On the first play after the Giants overcame what once was a 14-point deficit to take a one-point third-quarter lead, Ross was too late coming across the field to stop a 60-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to DeSean Jackson.
The utter collapse of the Giants' defense became complete in the fourth quarter when the Eagles drove 91 yards for a touchdown that restored a 14-point lead in what became a 45-38 Philadelphia victory.
A win would have put the Giants in a three-way tie for the division lead with Philly and Dallas. Instead, they slipped into the wild-card pack with a 7-6 record while the Eagles took over the division lead at 9-4.
Asked if he has any confidence in his defense when the ball is in the air, Coughlin said, "That's not a great question. It's more than just that. There wasn't much pressure on the quarterback, and we didn't cover well or cover for too long. We keep trying to maneuver people in and out, and we'll have to keep doing it."
There was nothing the Giants' defense could do to stop two Eagles TDs - a 60-yard fumble return by Sheldon Brown and a 72-yard punt return by Jackson. But quarterback Eli Manning fought back all night and the Giants finally stuck a nose in front at 31-30 on a 61-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 5:12 left in the third quarter.
But on first down from the Eagles' 40-yard line, McNabb dropped back and had all day to throw to Jackson streaking wide-open from right to left across the field. Ross was asleep at the switch against a player who was the Eagles' most dangerous weapon all night. The safety made a desperate lunge but couldn't get to the ball before it reached Jackson at the Giants' 10-yard line, from where he casually backpedaled into the end zone for a 37-31 lead.
"We should have covered," Coughlin said with a shrug. "Basically, you've got a two-man pattern. They blocked it well and maximum protected with two receivers in the route. They threw the ball way down the field similar to the one they had against us before the half [a 44-yard pass to Jackson]. It was very, very disturbing."
The two teams then exchanged punts, leaving the Eagles seemingly buried at their 9-yard line. On second down, McNabb found Jackson for a 20-yard gain, and the Eagles wore down the Giants on a 12-play drive for what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
"We did a decent job against the run, [unlike] the last time," Coughlin said. "But the yards don't mean a lot when you don't win the game."