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Giants' defense struggles in loss to Panthers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Michael Strahan missed the New York Giants' preseason opener and so did the rest of the defense.

Strahan had an excuse. The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end is holding out while he decides whether to retire.

The rest of New York's defenders played like they had retired in their first game under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. They missed tackles, overran plays, struggled against the run and made mistakes that led to big plays in a 24-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.

The big experiment with Mathias Kiwanuka was also a dud. The second-year pro, who was moved from defensive end to linebacker so he could get on the field and make plays, was somewhat invisible playing less than a half. He looked lost at times, making three tackles.

"We have things we need to work on," safety Gibril Wilson said. "I don't think we need to get too crazy. It is the first quarter of the first game. Nothing to get too excited about. We're just going to go back to work and try to understand coach's defense."

There were a lot of negatives.

The first team defense allowed Jake Delhomme and the Panthers to go 81 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown on their opening series. The drive featured runs of 7, 9 and 15 yards by DeShaun Foster and a 21-yarder by Nick Goings. Both runners made good use of the cutback.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the defense either overpursued the runner, didn't stay at home or got knocked down on cut blocks on the big plays.

"No excuses, no explanations, just the fact we didn't get it done on four or five big runs in the game and we have to get it cleaned up," Coughlin said Sunday in a conference call.

A couple of the big runs were directed at the left end position that has been manned for years by Strahan, who is deciding whether to return for a 15th season.

Strahan's holdout is now in its third week, and there are less than two weeks left of training camp at the University at Albany.

Coughlin refused to say he wanted Strahan to make a decision soon. He also has not set a deadline for him to decide.

"I think you have to get the situation corrected with the team that is here," Coughlin said of the problems with the run. "Obviously one guy isn't going to completely answer any type of question."

Coughlin was encouraged by the performance of defensive end Justin Tuck, who like Strahan was sidelined with a major foot injury.

The second team defense made the big mistakes, allowing a 73-yard, four-play TD drive in the final 54 seconds of the first half and an 85-yard bomb early in the third quarter. Taye Biddle caught both touchdowns, the first from 23-yards.

"There's work to be done and that's what we are here for," Coughlin said.

Coughlin was satisfied that Kiwanuka got a chance to learn in the game.

"If you are looking for a definition of why you play these preseason games it's the opportunity for Kiwanuka to be in the position he was in last night," Coughlin said. "The different things they were throwing at him and the experience he got and will get by looking at this tape, that's one of the good things about preseason."

Notes: TE Kevin Boss, the fifth-round draft pick, suffered a shoulder contusion in the game and his status for Monday is uncertain. ... Free agent rookie WR Marco Thomas injured a groin in the game. ... WR Amani Toomer (knee) and DT Fred Robbins (calf) are expected back at practice on Monday. They did not play on Saturday. ... CB Aaron Ross, the first-round draft pick, will be examined Sunday to see if he can run on Monday. He has been bothered by a hamstring and a buttocks injury. CB E.J. Underwood (hip) also will be examined to see if he can run. ... The group that seemed to please Coughlin the most were the running backs. They combined for 156 yards on 30 carries with Ryan Grant (44 yards on five carries) and Derrick Ward (29 yards on five carries) leading the way. Ward also had a 67-yard kickoff return.

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