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Giants need answers and help to make the playoffs

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Giants need answers and help to make the playoffs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Despite throwing away control of their playoff destiny with lopsided losses the past two weeks, the New York Giants aren't giving up.

While perplexed after seeing the defending Super Bowl champions outscored 67-14 by Atlanta and Baltimore, coach Tom Coughlin insists the Giants (8-7) will play hard in their season finale at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.

``We'll just keep hanging in there and working hard and this certainly is adversity,'' Coughlin said Monday. ``This certainly is a difficult time for us, but we're going to fight and we're going to do everything in our power to prepare ourselves for Philadelphia, who played very well against Washington.''

The Giants need a ton of help to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. They have to beat Philadelphia, have Minnesota and Chicago (both 9-6) lose and have Dallas (8-7) tie or lose to Washington.

While the chances of it all happening seem remote, Coughlin is hoping his team plays well after stumbling down the stretch with losses in five of the last seven games.

Neither Coughlin nor quarterback Eli Manning nor defensive end Osi Umenyiora could explain the collapse, although injuries have played a big part, especially in the second half of the season.

Halfback Ahmad Bradshaw (foot, knee), receiver Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee), defensive tackle Chris Canty (knee), safety Kenny Phillips (knee), offensive linemen David Diehl (knee), Chris Snee (hip) and David Baas (shoulder) all have played with nagging injuries.

Manning blamed some of the offensive woes lately on players not being able to practice much of the week and then showing up for games. Coughlin said the team isn't making many big plays on either side of the ball.

Manning believes this team wants to finish the season on a high note, even if that doesn't get the Giants in the postseason.

``We want to have something we can be proud about, and see how the other games (end up) " Manning said. ``I can guarantee you that the worst feeling we can have is if we go out there and don't play at a high level, and all those teams lose that we need to and we don't handle our own end. All we can worry about is improving our performance and getting back to playing quality football.''

The Giants certainly haven't done that lately. A week after being embarrassed 34-0 by the Falcons, New York dropped a 33-14 decision to the Ravens.

The combined 14 points is their lowest total in back-to-back games since Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, 2004, when they lost to Philadelphia 27-6, and to Washington, 31-7.

The offense was pathetic against a Ravens defense missing Ray Lewis. It gained 186 total yards with just 67 on the ground, was 2 of 10 on third down and held the ball for 20:29.

Baltimore gained 533 yards, the second-highest total in Coughlin's nine years as head coach.

Coughlin was at a loss to explain how a team loaded with veterans from two Super Bowl wins failed to step up and make plays.

``I'm sure it will be an incredible investigation and study,'' Coughlin said when asked if that was something the team would be looking at in the offseason.

Umenyiora said the ball just hasn't bounced the right way this season. They have been close to making plays and just missed or had breakdowns, something which didn't happen in their late-season six-game winning streak that carried them to a title last season.

It has led to a fair amount of frustration, but not anger, Umenyiora said, adding only one team walks away happy at the end of the season.

``Did this year play out the way out any of us wanted it to?'' Umenyiora said rhetorically. ``No, but at the end of the day we still have a chance to go out there and give one last good impression or one good showing of ourselves and I think we're going to do that.''

Umenyiora agreed with Coughlin that the Giants aren't a very confident team right now.

``The pedigree of this group is very, very good and for us to be getting beat the way we've been getting beat these last two weeks, obviously there's something lacking. Is it physical talent?'' Umenyiora said. ``You can't say it's physical talent because we have the ability, but obviously it has to be something, and so the only thing I think you can point to is confidence. It just doesn't seem like we're playing with a lot of confidence and it's showing out there on the football field.''

There is a good chance this will be Umenyiora's final season with the Giants. He said he would like to finish his career with the franchise, but he knows changes are coming if New York's season ends Sunday, and there is a ``high probability'' he would be a casualty.

Manning said the Giants' failure to make another late-season push was disappointing but not really a surprise because every season is different.

``You have to play your best football at the end of the season, especially for those in playoff contention, for playoff chances, you have to put yourself in the best possible position to be playing great football,'' Manning said. ``We haven't done that.''

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Trying to stop Lamar Jackson isn’t easy — neither is blocking for him

Trying to stop Lamar Jackson isn’t easy — neither is blocking for him

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson has excelled this season at keeping opposing defenses on their toes.

The problem is it keeps his teammates in limbo, too.

Jackson is one of the shiftiest players in the NFL, and when he breaks the pocket, there’s no way of knowing what he’ll do. That means there’s no way of knowing what the next step is as an offensive player, either.

“One of the best things about Lamar is how versatile a quarterback he is,” wide receiver Miles Boykin said. “No play is ever dead. We have two plays every time we step out there. If the first play doesn’t work, Lamar is going to find something with his feet or he’s going to find something on a scramble.”

Jackson has 576 yards rushing and three touchdowns so far this season and is on pace for over 1,300 yards rushing on the season. 

Sunday in Seattle, his legs carried the Ravens to a 30-16 win over the Seahawks. And while Seahawk defenders tried their best to slow Jackson down, his teammates did their best to anticipate.

“You just let him do his thing,” guard Marshal Yanda said. “That’s about the easiest way you could say it. Block them as long as we can, if he breaks the pocket and he goes, obviously try to cover him as much as we can down the field.”

As an offensive line, the Ravens' front five must make a determination once Jackson breaks the pocket on what to do. They could go downfield to try to get a step on the defense and risk an illegal man downfield penalty, or stay back and protect Jackson if he decides to set and pass the ball.

Sometimes, though, Jackson makes the decision easy.

“I think if they’re ever in that situation and they feel a breeze going by them, they say, ‘Hey let’s go,’” offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris said with a chuckle. "We better follow that breeze.”

After the original play breaks down, Jackson’s ability to extend sometimes leaves his teammates wondering exactly what he’ll do next.

“Sometimes he’s scrambling, and we’re all out there like, ‘Do we block? Do we try to get open?’” Mark Ingram explained. “You’re trying to be there for him, but he’s just doing crazy stuff.”

When Jackson breaks out of the pocket and the Ravens officially head into a scramble drill, there’s a few set tips that help the rest of the offensive weapons.

Marquise Brown says he has a set responsibility — but can’t share exactly what it is. Willie Snead was a high school quarterback, so he’s at least got some idea of what Jackson wants to do when he breaks the pocket. 

The only thing the Ravens can do is drill it and expect the unexpected when he breaks the pocket, because they certainly don’t want to quell what makes Jackson so special.

“You definitely don’t want to dull that,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “You want to let it happen naturally, let his natural talent take over.”

As a receiver, the main job is to get open. Whatever happens after that is up to Jackson.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do half the time,” Boykin said. “I just have one job, and that’s to get open. If you get open, Lamar is going to find you.”

While the Ravens’ offense might have trouble locating — and deciding — Jackson’s next move, it’s been enough to keep opposing defenses at bay. And Baltimore will take that trade-off every day of the week. 

“We don’t know where Lamar is going to be,” D'Alessandris said. “We have a good idea, but if he’s elusive enough to move, sustain your block and let things happen. I think that’s worked out pretty good for us so far.”

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Whirlwind week: Demone Harris makes Ravens practice squad, loses and then finds engagement ring, gets engaged

Whirlwind week: Demone Harris makes Ravens practice squad, loses and then finds engagement ring, gets engaged

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the span of a few days, Demone Harris bought an engagement ring, was released by the Buccaneers, traveled to Baltimore — where he lost the engagement ring, earned a spot on the Ravens practice squad and subsequently found the ring and got engaged.

Harris announced on Twitter today that he signed with the Ravens practice squad. The outside linebacker is in his second year in the NFL and originally was an undrafted free agent from Buffalo.

But that’s not the entire story of his signing.

Harris was released by the Buccaneers after returning from London on Oct. 15. He also had plans to propose to his girlfriend that week and had already purchased an engagement ring.

After a workout last Thursday morning in Baltimore, he was unable to find the engagement ring he planned to propose to his girlfriend with that weekend. 

Just a short while after the Ravens texted Harris to let him know he’d made the practice squad, he also received word that his engagement ring was found in the hotel he stayed at. 

The Ravens shipped the ring to him overnight and he proposed to his girlfriend on Friday in Buffalo like he’d planned to do all along. 

He ended his story on Twitter that he wanted to find the person who located the ring and “do something nice.”

For not having practiced with the Ravens yet, Harris has already created quite a stir.

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