The Giants defense was being abused on Sunday afternoon, and it wasn't the first time. Their resistance wasn't just futile, it was non-existent. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were moving the football like Giants defenders weren't even there.
Then, out of nowhere, everything changed. Suddenly, they had a pass rush. They created a turnover. They got big, third-down stops. Up until the final drive, and before they were bailed out by a missed field goal, they looked like an actual defense for the first time this season.
And that, just as much as anything rookie quarterback Daniel Jones did, is why the Giants ended up winning that game.
Imagine if the Giants could actually figure out how they turned it around.
"If there was a magic pill for that answer, I would 100 percent already give it to you," Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said on Thursday. "The truth of the matter is this: We have to call things better, we have to coach things better in the position meeting rooms and we have to execute better. That's both scheme, that's technique, that's eyes. Those things have to occur for us to play more consistent."
Whether Bettcher can find that "magic pill" to find that consistency might be the real key to the rest of the Giants' season, because if they can just summon a mediocre defense -- or even a barely adequate one -- maybe they'll be good enough to make some sort of a run. Jones looks like he's given a spark to the Giants' offense, but things won't be easy with Saquon Barkley out until November.
The Giants defense can't put the rookie quarterback in position where he's going to have to find a way to score 30-plus points, and make miracle comebacks with his undermanned offense every game.
Now, whether they have the personnel to give Jones the support he needs is unclear, but the Giants certainly showed a 29-minute flash of it on Sunday afternoon, while Jones was busy turning a 28-10 halftime deficit into a 32-31 win. In the first half, the Giants gave up 311 yards that resulted in three touchdowns and three field goals on six first-half drives.
Then the second half was the opposite: Just 188 yards and one field goal on seven Bucs drives. Even the last drive, which resulted in the game-losing missed field goal, was really about one bad play: a 44-yard pass to Mike Evans, who torched Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins for eight catches, 190 yards, and three touchdowns overall.
That's been the Giants' problem all season: mindboggling slow starts on defense. In three games, they've been on the field for 15 drives and yielded nine touchdowns and three field goals. It's why they've had to dig out of halftime holes of 21-7, 21-7 and 28-10.
But there is a feeling -- or maybe a hope -- that the second half on Sunday was the turning point, where the defense bounced hard off rock bottom and began a trajectory up. Maybe it could be like the infamous goal-line stand in Washington in Week 3 was for the 2007 Giants -- the moment where a disastrous defense finally realized it could play.
"Granted you want to play well in the second half. Most games are won in the second half," said linebacker Alec Ogletree, who missed much of that second half with a hamstring injury. "We were able to get some great stops out there, a turnover … I was proud of the guys for continuing to fight and finish. But there are definitely some things you wish you could do in the first half that will help."
Finding a way to do that, starting on Sunday against the Washington Redskins, is really the Giants' only hope. Jones was marvelous in his debut, but he's going to have his work cut out for him with Barkley out 6-8 weeks, and now receiver Russell Shepard out for a bit with a sprained foot. Jones was going to struggle at some point anyway. All young quarterbacks do. So he can't be saddled with a defense that can't stop anyone, too.
For the Giants to have a season that matters for something more than just preparing Jones for 2020, the defense has to come to the rescue. They have to give Jones a chance to win games 20-17, not 38-35. And they can't start him out in a deep first-half hole.
"That's hard to do in the National Football League, keep playing from behind," said Giants safety Jabrill Peppers. "Especially now (that) we've got a rookie quarterback. We've got to try to give him the greatest field position possible, don't let him go out there with a 10-point, 14-point deficit. Just come out there the way we're supposed to and keep games close in the first half, and then come out like we do in the second half, and I think things will start going our way."