EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The job of turning around the New York Giants belongs to quarterback Eli Manning, linebacker Antonio Pierce and the defending NFC East champions' other leaders.
Coach Tom Coughlin went out of his way Wednesday to tell the team that its leaders must take control and end the Giants' current three-game losing streak.
"Leaders are lifters," Coughlin said twice during his news conference Wednesday. "And normally what has to happen when a team does fight their way out of a problem, your best players have to show the way. They are the ones that show the way. The guys that are in the role of a foot soldier, they will play and they will work their tails off.
"But what ultimately shows is when the guys that are recognized as your quality football players, your better football players, they have to play themselves into a position where they are showing the way."
That's not happened for the Giants (5-3) in the recent slide that has slipped them from first place in the NFC East to third, one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
Manning has thrown six interceptions during the losing streak, and Pierce has been the leader of a defense that has allowed the New Orleans Saints and the Eagles to both score at least 40 points.
Things won't be any easier Sunday when the Giants are home to play the San Diego Chargers (4-3), who have won their last two games.
Manning and Pierce both welcomed the coach's challenge in what will be New York's final game before a bye -- a week that the team wants to avoid entering with a four-game losing streak.
"You always expect your leaders and the guys who expect to play well to go out there and do their job and play at a high level," said Manning, who has thrown just three touchdown passes in the last three games. "That level motivates the other guys and gets everybody going. We have to do our job. Each individual has to do their job, whether you are a guy expecting to make plays. If you are out there on the field, everybody has to do their job."
Pierce admitted he has played poorly during the Giants' losing streak.
"Coach didn't need to challenge any of us," Pierce said. "We are on a three-game losing streak and we're turning into pretty much the laughingstock as far as how we're playing on defense, so it's a fun week for us. So he doesn't need to call none of us out. We'll step it up this week. We had a good practice."
Pierce scoffed at the idea of having a team meeting, saying the Giants need to do their talking Sunday.
"It's one of our biggest games of the year," said Pierce, who earlier this week in a radio interview equated this game with another Super Bowl.
Pierce echoed Coughlin, saying the Giants' stars need to play like stars, the contributors need to contribute and everyone needs to do a little more.
"Obviously what we are doing now is not working," Pierce said. "It has nothing to do with Xs and Os. Sometimes it does. Sometimes you have to go above Xs and Os and play a little harder, run to the ball more, have energy, show some spirit that you want to enjoy playing the game, have some passion about the game because it passes you by fast, and we don't what to see our season pass us by."
Linebacker Danny Clark said there is a definite sense of urgency.
"I don't think at this point we need a bunch of 'rah-rah' guys, we need more leadership by example, going the extra mile to get us better," he said. "That's something we've taken pride in, the veterans, going out on the practice field and doing a little more, going a little harder, faster, longer."
The defense probably will have some help Sunday: Defensive tackle Chris Canty and weakside linebacker Michael Boley are expected to play.
Canty has been sidelined since the opening game with a calf injury. Boley had surgery on his right knee last month.
Boley expects to play, but he noted that the final decision will be left to the medical personnel.
"It's a young season, it's a real young season," he said. "It's not one of those things where I am going to sit here and say I'm rushing to get back, it's Week 15. That's not the case. The season is still young. We've got another half of the season."
Canty, who never missed a game in four seasons with the Cowboys, said having to sit out seven games in a row has been hard.
"It's difficult in any circumstance, even when we were winning," he said. "When we were 5-0, it was difficult not being out there contributing to the success of your football team. It's tough. I have never had to deal with that, and it comes with a dose of humility as well."