Carolina Panthers

New York Giants poised to play spoiler against 13-0 Carolina Panthers

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) recovers a fumble against Miami.
New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) recovers a fumble against Miami. AP

In case you missed it eight years ago or haven’t heard it once this week, the New York Giants beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and spoiled their chance at a perfect season.

This week the Giants (6-7) can again play spoiler, this time to the 13-0 Panthers, and they still have two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning on the field and coach Tom Coughlin on the sideline.

That’s about where the comparisons end.

While the Giants have the potential to end a perfect season for Carolina, this year’s iteration of the G-Men isn’t the same as the one that won a Super Bowl. The most glaring difference is on defense.

New York ranks last in the league in total yards, giving up more than 418 yards per game. The Giants’ pass defense also ranks worst in the league at 308 yards allowed per contest.

“We’re constantly trying to be a better defensive team, to tackle better, to be in better position,” Coughlin said this week. “To have our spots on the field or recognize what’s being – what the offense is throwing at us, so that we can be in better position. We’ve started to make some progress with the ball down the field, that occurred (Monday night). But, pressure, pressure on the quarterback, improving that.”

The Giants are one of the NFL’s worst at getting to the quarterback this season. They have just 16 sacks, which is second-worst behind Atlanta. They only sack the quarterback on 4.4 percent of pass plays – another worst.

In last week’s 31-24 win against the Dolphins, the Giants got to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has struggled mightily this season after getting a contract extension, once but didn’t force him into a turnover. They were even fooled twice on zone-read keepers by Tannehill, who finished the game with four carries for 24 yards.

The truth is, this isn’t the imposing Giants defensive line of yesteryear. New York’s best pass rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, is playing with a mangled hand after a fireworks incident left him without two digits.

Pierre-Paul had three tackles against the Dolphins and could have had a fourth. Instead, he couldn’t get his hand, which is in a cast, on Miami running back Lamar Miller and the play went 38 yards for a touchdown.

“They’ve had so many great pass rushers, and they’ve had a tremendous history of defense,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “Everything’s cyclical. Everything goes through a cycle. Players transition out and in.

“We went through it in terms of trying to build where we are today,” Rivera add, “and I think with where we’re heading, hopefully we’ll be able to keep that on a high level. Compared to what the Giants are going through, I think they’re on a little bit of a down cycle.

“They’ve got good players, they’ve got playmakers on their football team, they’ve got a solid quarterback. They’re trying to develop their line, and it’s just a matter of time before it cycles back up.”

The one area where the Giants aren’t behind is in the give/take category. New York has a plus-nine turnover margin, which is third-best in the league. The defense has taken the ball away 24 times, while Manning has been much better protecting the ball this season.

But, as Coughlin mentioned, the Giants haven’t won the turnover margin in a game since their Nov. 15 loss to New England.

And they’ve been terrible in late-game situations. The Giants have blown five leads with 2 minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter.

New York would be 11-2 if games lasted 58 minutes instead of 60.

They righted the ship last week against Miami, though. The Dolphins had the ball twice in the fourth quarter down a score and couldn’t muster a touchdown.

“We continue to work on all of these things and we did get the opponent stopped the other night in the fourth quarter and got the ball back and were able to finish the game with the ball offensively,” Coughlin said. “And that’s something that we’ve struggled to do all year.”

Since 1998 there have been six teams make it to at least 13-0, and the Giants have knocked off two of them – the ’07 Patriots and ’98 Broncos.

But if they make it three out of seven on Sunday, it won’t be because they thought of it that way.

“It’s not about taking down the other team,” Manning said. “It’s about us and our quest to win a game and in that case to win a Super Bowl, and we’re in that same kind of, same almost playoff mentality right now with the way our record is and what we’re doing to get into the playoffs.”

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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