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Giants’ defense, thought to be a team strength, has taken a big step backwards

Washington J.D. McKissic runs through Giants defense for a TD

Washington J.D. McKissic runs through Giants defense for a TD

Joe Judge has never been one to make any promises, but last night he did vow one thing: The train ride back from Landover, Md., was going to be a long busy one for him and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

“Me and Pat will have a long train session,” Judge said, “going through tape on a long train ride back.”

It promised to be long, sad and painful following the Giants’ soul-crushing, 30-29 loss to the Washington Football Team on Thursday night. The Giants defense that was supposed to be the strength of this team, that was the strength of this team a year ago, was a mess for the second straight week. Their secondary was shredded again. Their pass rush was still non-existent. They gave up big, quick plays all over the field.

And let’s keep in mind, this was the Washington Football Team, not the New Orleans Saints. And this was backup Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.

For the second straight week the Giants’ defense found a way to make capable, mediocre players seem great.

The numbers were ridiculous enough. Heinicke was 34 of 46 for 336 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Washington had a total of 407 yards.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole heartbreaking story. That story is told in the final 4:55, after the Giants took a 26-20 lead. That’s when Heinicke made it look like the Giants’ defense wasn’t even there, responding with a two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Two plays!

And if that wasn’t enough, after the Giants took the lead again with two minutes remaining, Heinicke got the ball at the Washington 25 and wasted no time getting into field goal range. Yeah, sure, Dustin Hopkins missed the first field goal before Dexter Lawrence got flagged for being offsides. But they wouldn’t have been in position for that field goal if it weren’t for that Heinicke-led offense, which converted a fourth down and a third down along the way.

Judge gave the usual compliments to his opponent, insisting that Heinicke is a “good quarterback” and Washington is a “very talented team.” He painted a picture of them as if they were the defending champion Buccaneers, not a team that backed into the NFC East title with a 7-9 record last year and just lost its starting quarterback last week.

Forget his coach-speak, though, his defense’s performance was just absurd, with the lone exception of a James Bradberry fourth-quarter interception that probably should’ve been enough to seal the game. This is a defense that ranked 12th in the NFL last season, then went out and thought they got better. They added Adoree Jackson at cornerback, drafted Azeez Ojulari at edge rusher, and basked in the health returns of safety Xavier McKinney and linebackers Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter, too.

And somehow … they’re worse? Really?

They’ve given up 827 yards in two weeks to two teams that combined for 12 wins last season. Their two opposing quarterbacks have completed 75.6 percent of their passes against the Giants for 600 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. That’s a combined passer rating of 106.8.

And again, it wasn’t Brady and Rodgers. It was Teddy Bridgewater in the opener and Heinicke on Thursday night.

If this Giants defense can’t stop them, how are they going to stop Jameis Winston and the Saints in Week 4, Matthew Stafford and the Rams in Week 6, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 8, Derek Carr and the Raiders in Week 9, or Brady and the Bucs in Week 11. There’s also Justin Hebert and the Chargers in Week 14, plus two games against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.

And of course there’s the season finale where maybe they will have to play Heinicke again.

Maybe this will all turn out to be like 2007, when the Giants’ defense was a hideous disaster the first two weeks, dragged the whole team down to an 0-2 start, and then they turned it all around starting in Week 3 and went on a Super Bowl run for the ages. Of course, that team was good. That’s a big difference. This team is coming off four straight seasons of double-digit losses.

It’s only hope of being truly competitive this season was that their defense was at least as good as it was last season. They needed the defense to prop up the offense as it found its way.

Instead it has regressed, which no one saw coming. A year ago, Graham was a coaching star for the job he did putting together this unit. That was a hard job. But this ones even harder.

If the Giants are going to salvage anything out of this season, Graham needs to get this defense working again.

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