The New York Giants are coming off one of their worst losses in recent memory — a humiliating 34-0 beatdown by the Atlanta Falcons — and have fallen into a three-way tie looking up at the Cowboys and Redskins for first place in the NFC East.
Nevertheless, the team still insists it is at its best when their backs against the wall. At least that's what they publicly say citing last season's playoff run and Super Bowl victory as proof.
Now former Giants linebacker and current ESPN analyst Antonio Pierce says the Giants past success had to do more with their heads than their backs.
"I really think they are a team that's mentally drained right now," Pierce said of the Giants team that will look to save its season with a must win against the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday.
"Coach [Tom] Coughlin is preaching mental toughness, and I don't know if they can say that have that right now. They are a team that is not as strong as in years past, as far as being mentally tough."
Pierce says Big Blue might be relying on last season's playoff run, after they reeled off a six-game win streak culminating with the victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, as some sort of blueprint for doing it again.
In September, Pierce said the Giants were basically overlooked last season because they came out of nowhere. This season they have a shiny Lombardi Trophy as a bullseye on their jerseys.
The "we can turn it on when it counts" philosophy doesn't jive with Pierce.
"My concern with the Giants is them constantly talking about what they've done in the past," said Pierce, who played on the 2007 Super Bowl championship team. "They are looking in the rear-view mirror, thinking they can always rely on that. Our backs re against the wall, this is the way we like it, and after [Sunday's] performance — an embarrassing, slap-in-the-face loss — I didn't see any players out there that played like everything really mattered at the time."
Pierce pinpointed the once ferocious defense as the main culprit for the Giants' shortcomings and named names.
"Opponents studied and figure out ways to block these guys and slow them up," he said. "So, I don't see the defensive coordinator [Perry Fewell] being as creative, coming up with different designs to free them up."
The ex-Giant didn't go easy on his former teammates either.
"Honestly, [Justin] Tuck has not been Tuck for three years now. and Osi [Umenyiora] is a situational pass-rusher. He comes in on the third down and he makes plays. But, for the most part as a group, they are being asked to make plays without any more creativity."
The Ravens are in the same boat as the Giants and looking to regroup after collapsing in the second half of the season.
"You come off back-to-back years without being in the playoffs and then you win a Super Bowl and things change," said Pierce. "Every year with coach Coughlin we had a different slogan. This year's team has to stick to that and not regurgitate what they've been able to do in the past."