Saints begin Giants' critical stretch

Antrel Rolle is not one to keep his mouth shut.

The safety usually speaks his mind, but after getting into some hot water last year for questioning the team's leadership and Tom Coughlin's methods in his first season as a Giant, Rolle has tried not to say much this season.

But now, with the Giants on a two-game slide and the playoffs perhaps slipping from their grasp again, Rolle isn't going to keep quiet anymore.

"Especially after the incidents that occurred last year with myself, I sort of took a different role so I sit back and watch things," Rolle said. "But I can say right now that's no longer going to be the case. Whatever has to be done or has to be said within our organization to get us on the right track and to play ball is going to be done and going to be said."

Rolle wasn't alone. Last Monday, Giants players talked amongst themselves to let off some steam and figure out what's gone wrong after their 17-10 loss to the Eagles at home. Defensive tackle Chris Canty was so upset with the defense's performance he got emotional as he spoke with reporters.

But Canty and Rolle know that talk won't win games. If the Giants are going to make a playoff run, they need to make a stand now as these next three weeks are critical.

On Monday night, the Giants will try to stop the bleeding in New Orleans against Drew Brees and the Saints. They then have a short week to prepare for the defending champion Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

If they lose those two games, the Giants will head to Dallas for a colossal NFC East showdown with a .500 record, and with a playoff spot perhaps out of reach. After going 6-2 and coming off a fiery victory in New England just a few weeks ago, the Giants could be on the verge of yet another second-half collapse under Tom Coughlin's watch.

That is, unless they do something about it.

"I hope it is fresh in our heads knowing that we can't allow ourselves to do it," defensive end Justin Tuck said when asked about past collapses becoming a mental issue for the Giants. "You talk about second-half collapses, if we get down to the Saints, it could be a historical second-half collapse."

Since 2004 when Coughlin took over, the Giants have started every season 5-2 or better. But they are just a collective 29-36 in games from November on, including this season when the Giants started 5-2 but have gone 1-2 since Halloween.

Coughlin bristled when asked about whether he's worried if the recent history of late struggles will creep into his players' heads.

"It is not going to be the history, believe me," Coughlin said. "I know that this is something fanatically involved with all of you [in the media] but each team is a new team and each year is a new year. If it was a different answer, I would give you one."

Coughlin would love to find an answer as to why his offensive line struggled against the Eagles. The Giants managed just 29 yards on the ground while Eli Manning was hit 10 times and sacked on three of those occasions by the Eagles.

And now left tackle Will Beatty is out indefinitely after having surgery to repair a detached retina.

Defensively, the Giants have to play better in the fourth quarter. They failed to keep Tom Brady from scoring on a fourth down late in the game before needing Manning to bail them out in New England. The Giants surrendered two touchdowns in 61 seconds to the 49ers in the fourth quarter and then allowed an 18-play game-winning drive to Vince Young, who converted six third downs on the drive.

"They had -- what is it -- an 18-play drive at the end of the game?" an agitated Canty asked rhetorically. "Really? [An] 18-play drive? We can't get 'em off the field?"

Perhaps worse than that was the sick feeling the Giants had after not responding when the Eagles took the fight to them in their own house.

The Eagles were more physical, they delivered what the Giants felt was a cheap shot when they knocked Manning to the turf following an interception and DeSean Jackson taunted Perry Fewell following a 50-yard bomb without retaliation.

"You don't take [stuff] from nobody at the end of the day," Rolle said. "That's my attitude. You don't take [stuff] from anybody. I felt like we took a little bit [from the Eagles]."

As has often been their M.O. recently, the Giants don't respond well to prosperity. Give them a one-game cushion in the NFC East and a chance to bury their division rival and the Giants delivered a rotten performance.

But tell the Giants they don't have a chance to stop Brady and win in New England and they pull off one of their most satisfying regular-season victories in recent memory.

Now they've heard all week how hard it is to slow down the Saints' offense. And next week it will be how defending Rodgers and the Packers will be Mission Impossible.

"I don't know what it is about this team man," Tuck said. "For some reason, we play better when people doubt us. In a way I am kind of comfortable with how we are. I don't know what it is. We don't play well as favorites. I hope we are two-touchdown underdogs going down to New Orleans."

No matter what the spread will be, the Giants will be clear underdogs the next two weeks and perhaps beyond that when they go to Dallas.

The most brutal portion of the schedule will either propel the Giants toward the playoffs or send them spiraling toward another second-half swoon.

"It's put up or shut up at the end of the day," Rolle said. "I'm not trying to be sitting at home come the first week in January watching these other teams that I know are not better than us go on. For what? I know we're a great team."