EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The New York Giants started the season as the best team in the NFL, and through seven games they have done nothing to change that image.
Have any doubts? Watch the Giants 21-14 victory Sunday over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
The formula that led the Giants' stunning Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots last February was on display again.
Steve Spagnuolo's defense pounded Ben Roethlisberger unmercifully and got four turnovers. Eli Manning and the offense didn't turn the ball over while making just enough plays to win. The final ingredient was Tom Coughlin and his mantra of team first.
In the biggest game of the year, the coach benched Plaxico Burress for the first quarter for missing a medical treatment on his sore shoulder and stiff neck.
iscretions against San Francisco the previous week.
The bottom line was he messed up and had to pay the price.
Burress did, and the Giants overcame the problem, which is what they have been doing for the last season and a half.
For the Giants, no player seems irreplaceable.
When Michael Strahan retired in June, Justin Tuck replaced the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end without missing a beat.
When Pro Bowl Osi Umenyiora was lost with a season-ending knee injury in August, Mathias Kiwanuka was moved back from linebacker to defensive end, his natural position.
A look at the latest NFL statistics shows the Giants are leading the league in sacks with 26, one more than the Steelers, who were shut out by a Giants line that does not have one Pro Bowler.
The ability to step up even extends to the front office. General manager Jerry Reese resurrected 44-year-old kicker John Carney, and all he has done is make every field goal but one this season. The one he didn't make was blocked.
``I think we are definitely not resting or taking time off because we won last year,'' Kiwanuka said Monday, a day after sacking ``Big Ben'' three times. ``We have a lot of guys who have been in these situations before and guys who have played in the league for a long time and they know how rare Super Bowls are to come by. We are definitely still excited about playing every week.''
Over the next few weeks, the Giants are going to get a chance to show the rest of the league just how good they are.
New York, which has won all four of its home games this season after winning only three last year, will face the Dallas Cowboys (5-3) on Sunday with a chance to open a three-game lead on the defending NFC East champs.
Not only are the Cowboys struggling, but they are going to go into the game without Tony Romo (finger) and with a potential quarterback controversy. Coach Wade Phillips indicated Monday that he was considering replacing Brad Johnson with Brooks Bollinger, a former Jet.
``I would not think there would be any kind of letdown,'' Coughlin said Monday. ``You are talking about only our second divisional game since Game One. The fact that we are moving back into the division and that it is the Dallas Cowboys ... I would think we will be very excited about the game.''
The tightness of the NFC East is likely to keep the Giants focused. Washington, which lost to New York in the NFL Kickoff, is a game back at 6-2, followed by Dallas and Philadelphia, which improved to 4-3 after knocking off the upstart Atlanta Falcons.
The Giants will travel to Philadelphia in two weeks in another important divisional game that could give them some daylight.
``I think it is that competitive,'' Coughlin said. ``It will continue to be that way, I would imagine, right to the very, very end of the season.''
The funny thing about the Giants is that they are not a team that worries about down the road stuff. Coughlin has them grounded in that boring one-game-at-a-time routine.
All they care about now is the Cowboys.
``I think it is the toughest division in football, and for us to go out there and get a win would be really big for this team and obviously would say a lot and would do a lot for our positioning,'' Kiwanuka said.
It might even convince people that the Giants are capable of repeating, which isn't bad for a team that wasn't even picked by many to win its division.

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