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After leading Giants to title, defense a no-show

After leading Giants to title, defense a no-show

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) 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 championship 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.''

NOTES: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (knee) practiced on a limited basis Thursday and said he is feeling better and looking forward to Sunday. Prince Amukamara tweaked his hamstring in limited action last week and seems iffy for Sunday, while fellow cornerback Jayron Hosley was added to the injury list with a quadriceps injury. ...S Antrel Rolle won the George Young Good Guy Award for his cooperation with the media after a vote by the Giants' chapter of the Professional Football Writers of America. ..

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As Ravens get closer to playoffs, confidence among one another is apparent

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As Ravens get closer to playoffs, confidence among one another is apparent

Most NFL teams would fear putting their season in the hands of two rookies, but quarterback Lamar Jackson and undrafted free agent Gus Edwards have taken the Baltimore Ravens' confidence to a new level.

You can feel the effects on both sides of the ball as the offense and defense have been working cohesively since their Week 10 bye. Jackson and the offense have dominated time of possession over those four weeks, which in hand allows the defense to have fresh legs each time they take the field as they remain the No.1 total defense in the league.

With two games to go and the postseason in sight, the respect among teammates is apparent.

"We appreciate it so much, the way our offense is playing," linebacker C.J. Mosley said following the team's 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "It's keeping their offense off the field. It allows us to take care of our business, get us rest when we need it, and that is huge."

Heading into the fourth quarter of Sunday's win, Jackson had already hit 100 yards rushing on 13 carries and kept his offense on the field for 37:10 compared to the Buccaneers' 22:50. Plus with the help of Edwards' 104 rushing yards on 19 attempts, the Ravens have rushed for at least 190 yards in five-consecutive games. The last team to do this was the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then there is the defense. In eight of their 14 games in 2018, the Ravens have held their opponent to under 300 yards, and on Sunday held the Bucs to a season low 241 total yards and 156 net passing yards. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey had his first interception of the year and a career-high four passes defended while dealing with a groin injury in a standout performance.

"We're playing great team football right now to a T," safety Eric Weddle added. "We're playing well off each other— running the ball, controlling the clock, third-down conversions. We just know, as a defense, we just need to continue playing at a high level to give our offense more opportunities. Who knows what's going to happen."

Total team effort has put the Ravens in control of the sixth and final AFC playoff spot and half a game back of the Steelers for the AFC North. As they head to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers in Week 16 and then back to Baltimore to face the dynamic Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns, it appears the offense and defense have together found what works for them in a style of play that pundits deemed unattainable just weeks ago. 

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Lamar Jackson validates John Harbaugh's decision to pick him as starting QB

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Lamar Jackson validates John Harbaugh's decision to pick him as starting QB

Joe Flacco was ready if needed. 

When Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made the decision to stick with rookie Lamar Jackson as the team’s starter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it all but signaled the end of the Flacco era in Baltimore. 

But a game still needed to be played. And the questioned remained that in a must-win game for Baltimore to maintain its playoff position, would Harbaugh be tempted to call on his veteran if Jackson were to struggle. 

Despite a slow start on a rainy afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium, Jackson delivered yet again, improving his record to 4-1 as a starter as the Ravens defeated the Bucs 20-12.

In many ways, the win validated Harbaugh’s decision to stick with the rookie. With Indianapolis and Tennessee both winning on Sunday, there was little room for error for the Ravens in their close fight for a playoff spot.

Jackson once again was electrifying on the ground, rushing for 95 yards on 18 carries, while throwing for 131 yards and one touchdown.

A loss, however, would’ve opened the door for second-guessing as to whether Flacco, with years of playoff experience, should’ve gotten the call. 

The win not only got the Ravens one step closer to clinching a playoff berth, but solidified Jackson’s place as the team’s unquestioned starter. Flacco will be ready if needed against what should be a tougher battle against the Chargers next week, but it’s clear who the Ravens are sticking with down the stretch. 

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