New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin gave his team four days off during its bye week. It’s time to find out if the once-mighty Giants can respond and save what seemed like a promising season.
New York looked dominant during a 5-0 start but hasn’t won since. The Giants (5-4) were in good position to break through in their last game before allowing San Diego to drive 80 yards in the final 2 minutes for the winning touchdown in a 21-20 loss two weeks ago.
Coughlin, once known as one of the league’s toughest disciplinarians, gave New York some extra time off hoping it can take the pressure off his club entering its final seven games.
“That was the purpose, obviously, and they should certainly have done that,” he said. “Before they left we told them to have a good vacation and spend some time with their families, relax and get away from football, get away from the routine.”
On Friday, though, New York learned linebacker and defensive captain Antonio Pierce(notes) will be out indefinitely after an MRI revealed a bulging disc in his neck. Pierce, who leads the Giants with 40 tackles and 15 assists, originally sustained a burner in a 24-17 loss to Arizona on Oct. 25, but had very little discomfort until practice this week.
New York got plenty of help during the bye as the teams above it in the NFC East - Dallas and Philadelphia - both lost. The Giants are in a second-place tie with the Eagles, one game behind the Cowboys.
“We knew we weren’t in an awful situation,” quarterback Eli Manning(notes) said. “It’s not exactly where we wanted to be, but we knew that there were still a lot of games left, a lot of season and if we went out and handled our business and play well, got hot again and got back to winning some games, we would be very much into the playoff hunt.”
The Giants got another break last Sunday when Atlanta (5-4) - a team in contention for a wild card - fell 28-19 at Carolina and suffered a bigger loss on the field. Turner, seventh in the NFL with 831 yards, sprained his right ankle and is in a walking boot.
Turner carried nine times for 111 yards last week and has amassed 428 over the last three. The Falcons are being coy about his status, calling it day to day.
“He is working extremely hard,” coach Mike Smith(notes) said. “He did injure his ankle in the ballgame last week and wasn’t able to finish it. But he is working extremely hard to get back as quick as possible.”
“Whether or not Michael Turner plays or not, they have a style,” Coughlin said. “They play the game a certain way. They do rush the football very well.”
The visiting team has won the last 12 meetings in this series, with Atlanta taking five straight at Giants Stadium. New York won 31-10 in the last matchup two seasons ago.
For the Falcons to continue their mastery in the Meadowlands, they will likely need Matt Ryan(notes) to play much better. Ryan has 12 interceptions - surpassing his total by one from his 2008 rookie season - with eight in his last four games.
“We know that Matt has got to play better,” Smith said. “He knows that he has got to play better. But there is a learning curve and it is not something that happens in a very short time.”
The defense Ryan will face is ranked No. 1 in the NFL despite allowing some big plays during the losing streak. That unit appears to be at its healthiest, with the possibility that cornerback Aaron Ross(notes) will make his season debut.
Linebacker Michael Boley(notes) returned in the San Diego game after missing the previous four due to knee surgery. Boley was signed as a free agent after spending the last four seasons with the Falcons, who drafted him in 2005.
The Falcons own the seventh-worst rushing defense in the league, but the Giants’ normally vaunted ground game has been sporadic despite ranking seventh. Brandon Jacobs(notes) has yet to record a 100-yard effort and Ahmad Bradshaw’s(notes) production is down to 35.0 yards per game during the skid compared to 75.0 in the 5-0 start.