EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The only time a New York Giants lineman gets headlines these days is when one of them plays a practical joke.
Last week, someone in the group made off with the helmet of first-round draft pick Aaron Ross and placed it on a gate surrounding the practice field.
Of course, the linemen denied the prank, but everyone knew one of them picked on the rookie defensive back.
During games, the line has been almost invisible. That's how well they are playing in the current four-game winning streak. The running game is clicking, Eli Manning is hitting passes with all the time in the world to throw and the line isn't being called for those drive-killing holding and procedure penalties as it has in recent seasons.
``When no one is talking about us, that is a good thing,'' center Shaun O'Hara said. ``That's the role of an offensive lineman, to live a life of obscurity. We're having fun right now. We're having fun running the football and it's fun when you are winning games. The idea is to keep that going.''
Heading into Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers (2-3), the Giants (4-2) are ranked sixth in the NFL in total offense (359.2 yards) and second in the NFC behind the Dallas Cowboys (405.2).
The line, which also includes Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl at the tackles and Chris Snee and Rich Seubert at the guards, has allowed only seven sacks and helped the running game overcome the loss of Tiki Barber. In the last two games, Derrick Ward, Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns have rushed for 376 yards.
``They're playing really well,'' Manning said of the line. ``They're opening up holes in the running game, they're protecting well. They're controlling the line of scrimmage. We're going to need them to do that if we're going to keep playing well.''
The play of the line has been one of the most pleasant surprises.
During the offseason, veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout was released in a cost-saving move that resulted in two changes on the left side.
Diehl, whose versatility has allowed him to play both guard positions and right tackle, was moved from left guard to left tackle. Seubert, whose career was nearly ended by a broken leg in 2003, took over at left guard and has been excellent playing full-time for the first time since his injury.
What has also helped the group is that they are tight-knit. It's not unusual to see them in the players' parking lot after preseason games having a postgame party.
``To a certain degree we really don't need to communicate,'' McKenzie said. ``We see things and know what we can and can't do.''
Right now the line is doing almost anything it wants, particularly running the ball without Barber, the team's all-time leading rusher. The backs are averaging almost 4.6 yards per carry.
``I think that is our mentality, to be able to rush for four-plus yards a run,'' O'Hara said. ``As offensive linemen that's what we strive for. That's what we hang our hat on. Obviously, the game can dictate otherwise, but if the running game is going well everything else seems to fall into place.''
The ability to run also has created opportunities to make big plays in the passing game. Plaxico Burress has eight touchdown receptions, which is tied for the league lead with Randy Moss of the Patriots.
Veteran Amani Toomer smiles when asked about the line. The 12-year veteran remembers days when the quarterbacks only had time to dump the ball off to Barber, which led to his being the team's all-time leader in receptions until Toomer surpassed him last weekend.
``You could get open as much as you want but he wouldn't have time,'' Toomer said of the quarterbacks. ``Now we can run our full routes, set up the DBs. It makes us a lot better in terms of the way we attack the defense.''
The play of the line also has made Manning very appreciative. When the quarterback and the line go out to dinner, Manning usually picks up the check.
``We look forward to seeing him at Christmas time, too,'' Snee quipped.
It's one of the perks when the offensive line is playing well.
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