EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year after carrying the Giants to their second Super Bowl title in five seasons, New York's defense is one of the major reasons the team is on the verge of missing the playoffs.
Heading into the regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants' defense is ranked No. 30 in the NFL. Only Jacksonville and New Orleans are worse.
The pass rush that hounded and battered opposing quarterbacks last season seems a distant memory. The run defense is non-existent and big plays by opponents are more the norm than the exception.
And things have gotten worse in recent weeks. The Giants (8-7) have been outscored 67-14 in losses to Atlanta and Baltimore and have given up 927 yards combined.
"It's one of those years," defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "You really can't put your finger on what happened. We're 6-2 with that same system, so things haven't went our way lately, but in this league, I mean last year we kind of made our breaks and the ball bounced our way here and there, and you got that confidence and you started to play better than you had before and that hasn't happened for us this year so far. But again, everything can change with the drop of a pin and that's what we're hoping for and that's what we're looking for.
"Like I told everybody, I didn't get my Christmas gift yet so hopefully that comes on Sunday," Tuck said.
The Giants' chances of making the playoffs are slim. They have to beat the Eagles, have Minnesota and Chicago lose and have Washington either beat or tie Dallas.
To start with, beating the Eagles won't be easy the way the team is playing now, especially the defense.
"We've prepared better than what we've played," Fewell said Thursday. "We haven't made plays. I think if you look at the tape, we're in position to make plays, and we haven't made plays."
Not only haven't the Giants' defenders made the plays, opposing running backs, receivers and quarterback have found the holes, jumped an inch higher to grab a ball and threaded a pass between New York players.
Veteran defensive tackle Chris Canty sat in front of his locker Thursday and shook his head when asked about the team's defensive ranking.
"That's a fall from grace," said Canty, who sprained a knee Sunday and may not be able to go against Michael Vick and the Eagles in what might be Andy Reid's final game as coach. "It's tough to realize that's the position that we're in, that's the quality of work that we put together. But the facts are the facts. That's what it is. It's disappointing. I'm sure that every guy on the defense in this locker room would say that.
"So for whatever reason we didn't put our best effort on a consistent basis throughout the season," he said. "But with every game there is an opportunity to turn that around."
Fewell hopes one big play will get his unit going.
"They just have to make up in their minds," Fewell said. "I think they've been playing hard, but they have to make up in their mind that we have to make some plays. We have to get a spark from somebody. Somebody has to go through and make a football play and get everybody going, either offensively, defensively or special teams. We need somebody to make a big play for us and get us rolling."
If there has been a problem for the Giants it's been the big play. Opponents have completed 56 passes for greater than 20 yards and had 49 rushes of at least 10 yards.
Some of the big plays have been on simple plays. Ravens running back Bernard Pierce ran 78 yards on a lead draw late in the 33-14 loss on Sunday.
"That's our inability to stop a basic football play," coach Tom Coughlin said.
The last time the Giants defense collapsed late in a season, Bill Sheridan was fired as the coordinator after one season. Fewell, however, was the architect of last year's defense.
"The one thing I know about football, it is ever changing," Tuck said. "You got to keep up with the time and you got to keep up with preparing and making sure you are on top of your game. in some [areas] we didn't get better. We didn't prepare as well I guess, I don't know."