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Defense rests in fourth

After a fine start, unit stumbles down stretch

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / November 7, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - The answers will be revealed when they watch the film.

There will be plenty of questions for the Patriots defense to ponder. Among them will be how the Giants, who were shut out in the first half, managed back-to-back drives of 80 yards in less than seven minutes in the fourth quarter.

Or how a team that stopped the Giants on third down for much of the game (4 of 14), allowed a pair of third-down conversions on the winning drive. The result won’t change when the Patriots watch film of yesterday’s 24-20 loss, but they have an idea of what to expect.

“It was very frustrating,’’ said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. “At the end of the day, we take it on our shoulders. We have to close the game and we didn’t execute when we needed to.’’

The defense is getting used to answering questions about breakdowns. The difference yesterday was that the Patriots looked as if they had figured out a few things.

The Giants had 117 yards of total offense in the first half, with Eli Manning completing 8 of 18 passes for 71 yards. The Patriots continued to be stingy in the third quarter, forcing the Giants to kick a 22-yard field goal at the 10:09 mark to take a 3-0 lead.

It was just the start of the damage as the Giants scored 24 points in the second half.

“First half, second half, doesn’t matter,’’ Patriots safety Patrick Chung said. “We’ve got to play 60 minutes. So, you’ve got to finish strong just like you start strong.’’

Later in the quarter, the Giants were inside the New England 5 and prepared to add to their 10-3 lead when corner Kyle Arrington intercepted Manning in the end zone. The moment looked like a turning point for the Patriots, who took advantage of the turnover to tie the game to start the fourth quarter.

“It was definitely a momentum swing, but credit to them, they were a resilient bunch of guys,’’ Arrington said. “They fought back and made plays when it mattered.’’

In less than seven minutes, the players who were making big plays and critical stops were tagged with drive-changing penalties.

Arrington was called for pass interference that moved the Giants from their 25-yard line to the Patriots’ 40 with 5:51 to play. Six plays later, Manning launched a pass over Arrington into the hands of Mario Manningham at the back corner of the end zone to give the Giants a 17-13 lead.

The Patriots regained the lead, 20-17, with 1:36 to play. Facing first and 10 from the New England 21 with 35 seconds left, Patriots safety Sergio Brown was called for pass interference as he tripped up Victor Cruz in the end zone.

Brown was in for Chung who was injured on an earlier play.

The Giants received a fresh set of downs at the 1.

“I got my head back looking at the ball - tried to make a play on the ball and I guess we got tangled up,’’ Brown said. “I was looking at the ball trying to make a play on it. Our feet got tangled up and they called the penalty on me.’’

The drive concluded with Manning finding tight end Jake Ballard in the end zone with 19 seconds to play to seal the deal.

While the Patriots secondary has been under fire for much of the season, Arrington said they have to take the good with the bad.

“It’s the National Football League,’’ Arrington said. “Playing corner in this business, you’ve got to have a short memory. You can’t help good throws and good catches sometimes and that’s all I really have to say about that.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.

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