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Giants' Markus Golden has been there before, and it helps

Markus Golden of the Giants reacts during a

Markus Golden of the Giants reacts during a game against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sep. 29, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

When Markus Golden scooped the football off the turf at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night and looked up to see 42 yards between himself and the end zone, he knew he could make it.

“I was a running back in high school, and I scored a pretty good touchdown in college, too,” the Giants linebacker said. “I’m used to carrying the ball a little bit . . . You have NFL receivers chasing you, so I knew they were going to have a shot to catch up with me and make a play on me, so I was thinking in my head when they came: ‘Make sure I don’t go down easy.’ It worked out for me.”

Golden made it for the touchdown, spinning and lunging the last few feet as he stretched the ball across the goal line.

He had confidence . . . because he’d done it before.

It’s the same way with this entire season for the free-agent acquisition, who joined the Giants on a one-year contract.

Sure, it had been a while since he was able to put up big numbers in his sack production. He had 12 1⁄2 in 2016 but only 2 1⁄2 in the two seasons after that. Injuries and schematic changes with his former team, the Cardinals, led to the diminished numbers.

He came to the Giants, a team in desperate need of a pass rusher, certain that he would be able to match those numbers and return to the type of player he was.

He had confidence . . . because he’d done it before.

“I’m all about working, so I worked hard this offseason,” Golden said. “When you put in the work that I was making sure I put in every day and making sure I was taking care of my body even better than I was before the injury, yes, I was confident in myself no matter what . . . Just putting in the work every day and keeping the confidence that everything would be how I wanted it to be.”

Through six games, it’s pretty close. Golden leads the team with five sacks, all of them in the last five games. He has had at least a half-sack in each of those contests, matching the longest such streak of his career. He’s become the answer to the question that haunted the Giants all offseason and preseason (“where will the pass pressure come from?”) and is turning out to be, dollar for down, the best free-agent signing made by Dave Gettleman since he took over as general manager almost two years ago.

“I knew going into it that Markus Golden had that ability,” Pat Shurmur said on Friday. “It was a matter of record that he had been very disruptive the year before his injury, and he’s back and playing really hard.”

His five sacks are tied for sixth in the NFL heading into Sunday’s games and he is helping the Giants regain a defensive identity that includes a pass rush. They haven’t had a player reach double-digits in that category since Jason Pierre-Paul had 12 1⁄2 in 2014 and have finished among the bottom four teams in that category in three of the past four seasons.

Golden is on pace for 13 sacks and the Giants are on pace for 42, which would be their most since they had 47 in 2014.

They have to keep it going to reach — or exceed — those numbers. For Golden, that is one thing he hasn’t been able to do in his career. The year he had 12 1⁄2 with Arizona, he logged six in the first five games and 4 1⁄2 in the last two games of the season. That left nine games in the middle in which he totaled two.

Sacks are a streaky stat to begin with, and Golden has illustrated that. If he can maintain his current pace, he’ll not only help the Giants but help himself. Remember that one-year contract?

“I feel like we can show that we can keep doing it and come out and compete week to week,” he said of the defense. “We want to keep taking it one week at a time, but we want to come out and be consistent each week.”

Golden has infused the defense with energy and production . . . two things they have been missing for a while. He’s the only pass rusher on the defense who has a history of success in the NFL, albeit a fleeting one, yet he doesn’t take all of the credit for the resurgence.

The coverage in the secondary helps. And the push up the middle, especially from rookie defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, prevents escapes by quarterbacks. But Golden seems to be the key.

“It’s just guys working together and flying around together and believing in each other as far as the pass rush,” he said.

And, of course, having the confidence that at least one of them has done this before.

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