By Steve Silverman
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Eli Manning may not admit it, but he had to feel pretty good at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLIX.
When Tom Brady led the Patriots to two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Seahawks, he served notice that he was as good as he’s ever been. When rookie Malcolm Butler came through in the final 20 seconds with the game-saving interception, it meant that Brady had his fourth Super Bowl, and that put him in the same club with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
It also meant that Manning is still the only quarterback to get the best of Brady in a Super Bowl, and he’s done it twice.
Manning has demonstrated that his ability to come through in the postseason makes him a very special quarterback. However, since that last triumph following the 2011 season, the Giants have endured three seasons without any postseason activity, and their championship patina is no longer buffed to a high gloss.
Even with all the disappointment, the Giants at least have a partial road map to follow in 2015 if they want to get back to the promised land. Yes, it involves a heavy dose of Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr., but it also requires that Victor Cruz returns to full health.
And general manager Jerry Reese has plenty of work to do.
The Giants are a lot closer to NFC East bottom-feeder Washington than they are to the division-champion Dallas Cowboys right now. Firing defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and bringing back Steve Spagnuolo to take that position was the proper first step, but there is so much more that needs to be done if the Giants are going to be in a challenging position next season.
The Giants need to add key players on both sides of the line of scrimmage in the offseason, and Reese is going to have to attack during free agency and the draft.
The need on the defensive line is the most glaring, and it needs to be addressed in free agency.
The Giants’ defense was awful during their crucial midseason stretch that saw them lose seven consecutive games.
The Giants ranked 29th overall on defense and were a pitiful 30th against the run. Basically, Fewell’s defense would get pushed backwards for the majority of the game when the Giants faced the tougher opponents on the schedule.
Reese needs players who are experienced and ready to play if the Giants are going to stand up and get back to playoff contention. That means going after defensive linemen in free agency.
Reese must get defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul back under contract. While Pierre-Paul disappointed in 2012 and 2013, he had 12.5 sacks, 77 tackles, six passes defensed and three forced fumbles last season. When Pierre-Paul is healthy and motivated, he can play.
A new contract may take away some of his inspiration, but his familiarity with Tom Coughlin and his need to impress Spagnuolo should force him to play hard on every down.
The big prize on the free-agent market is Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, but the early indications are that the Lions will make a big push to bring him back. It has not been the Giants’ way to spend the most money on the biggest free agents, and that probably is not going to happen with Suh either.
However, his teammate, Nick Fairley, would be an excellent fit on the interior defensive line. Fairley is a mean, nasty, aggressive player who can shut down the run and make a solid rush from the middle and collapse the pocket. He would come at far less of a premium than Suh.
Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes is also a possibility. The Bills had perhaps the best front four in the NFL last year, and while Hughes is not as popular as teammates Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus, he had 54 tackles, 10.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. Hughes is a speedy 6-foot-2, 254-pound baller who can come around the edge, flatten out and destroy the quarterback.
The Giants need help at the linebacker and safety spots as well, but Reese needs to make sure the defensive line is fully stocked and ready to roll if the Giants are going to make life difficult for Tony Romo and the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFC East.