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Friday, 14 November 2008 10:05
NFL Headline News

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A year after the Super Bowl, Giants still The One
AP Photos
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -In less than a year, the New York Giants have gone from a team fighting to make the playoffs to one being touted as the best in football. They constantly are in the spotlight, just as the New England Patriots have been for most of this decade.
Don't act surprised. Though not perfect, they are, after all, the Super Bowl champions. And they are off to an 8-1 start, their best since winning the first 10 in 1990 en route to another championship.
Want to argue that someone else is the NFL's showcase team? Go ahead, but don't start with the Patriots. Without the injured Tom Brady, they are just another AFC team. Even the Jets are beating them now.
And who cares that the Tennessee Titans are perfect? They don't scare anyone - yet.
The injury-plagued Cowboys are a mess even with Tony Romo returning. The Steelers and Redskins are good but vulnerable. Peyton Manning isn't having a very Peyton-type year in Indianapolis.
s left: THE GIANTS.
``They have a very good chance,'' said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' longtime personnel director and now the NFL's draft consultant. ``If you were to go today, the two teams that would be in the Super Bowl would be Tennessee and the Giants, and I just said on a chat that I thought the Giants would win in a very close game.''
There's a lot to like about coach Tom Coughlin's team.
Take away the Brady/Randy Moss superstar factor, and the Giants are very much like the Patriots a year ago.
It's a solid organization with a bright young leader in general manager Jerry Reese. They draft well, sign their best players to long-term deals, find gems on the waiver wire and don't waste money signing overpriced free agents.
On the field, the Giants aren't a team of big-name stars despite having Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, who still is somewhat dwarfed by big brother's persona. They are more blue-collar guys who fit into precise, disciplined systems. They are well coached, motivated and they have learned the value - for the most part - of quietly working together.
Sure, Plaxico Burress is going to have his run-ins with Coughlin, but for the most part this is a team that is young, talented, deep and hungry.
``We put our feet in the water last year,'' middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. ``We want to go headfirst this year, and that's why I love this team.''
that carries an unmistakable chip of being discounted by the experts in the preseason after Michael Strahan retired and fellow Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Dallas was the consensus choice to win the NFC. Some picked the Giants to finish no better than third in the NFC East, thinking they were just a team that got hot at the right time last season.
Guess what: They are still hot. They lead the division by two games heading into Sunday's matchup at Giants Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens (6-3).
``They picked up right where they left off from last year, getting all the sacks, making big plays and stuff,'' said Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who left the Giants after last season to sign a big-bucks offer with Buffalo. ``I'm not really surprised by how they're performing. People never really gave them credit from the beginning anyway. They feed off that, and they appreciate the media whenever they do that.''
The only difference now is that the Giants have become this year's IT team.
he No. 1 overall draft pick.
Even Dallas owner Jerry Jones jumped on the bandwagon two weeks ago after New York ripped the Cowboys to drop Dallas to 5-4 heading into a bye week. When asked about the Cowboys' chances of getting back into the playoff race, he pointed to what the Giants did last season in overcoming an 0-2 start to win it all.
Every team that has gotten off to a poor start this season thinks they can be like the Giants - probably even winless Detroit.
``Its all fickle,'' center Shaun O'Hara said. ``It's all the flavor of the month and we just happen to be that flavor right now.''
Added veteran receiver Amani Toomer:
``I don't want to be the New England Patriots of last year. I think our team has grown a lot from last season, mentally, and as a team and as a unit. I think we grew together during those hard times. We know what it was like to struggle and now we are enjoying doing well. We seem to be on a roll.''
In an old-fashioned way, everything starts up front for New York.
The offensive line led by Coughlin's son-in-law, guard Chris Snee, is opening holes for a trio of running backs led by big Brandon Jacobs. And it's giving Manning time to throw to a stable of reliable, steady receivers who buck the trend of promoting themselves; even Burress doesn't do that - his problems within the team are related to off-field issues.
nuka have more than replaced Strahan and Umenyiora. New York leads the conference with 30 sacks, getting a big push inside from the underrated tackle Fred Robbins.
``I think right now we are definitely very confident in this football team and for good reason,'' Tuck said. ``We are 8-1 and we feel good about it, but I don't think we let that become a cockiness.''
The credit for that evenhanded approach has to go to Coughlin. He changed his methods in 2007 while facing a possible pink slip. He formed a leadership council with his veterans and got them to carry the message of unity to the team.
It didn't hurt that Tiki Barber retired the previous season, removing his most open and frequent critic.
Having Reese ship disgruntled tight end Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans before the start of training camp this year turned into another plus by subtraction.
``He is pounding us every day that it's team first, team unity, team resiliency,'' halfback Derrick Ward said of the 62-year-old Coughlin. ``Everything has team first.''
Even after winning the Super Bowl, having a parade down Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes, taking a trip to the White House and being presented garish rings on a blue carpet at Tiffany's in New York City, Coughlin did not let down.
eemed to stop.
``We all know what types of guys we have in this locker room and we came into this season expecting big things,'' Snee said. ``We didn't say much about it, but we expected to be successful and get into the playoffs and see what we can do again.''
A little more than halfway through the season, the Giants are unbeaten at home (5-0). They won only three games at Giants Stadium last season. They are 3-0 in the division, and remarkably healthy for nine games into the schedule.
When someone misses playing time, as Burress did for a one-game suspension for missing a team meeting, the next in line steps up. Little-known Domenik Hixon, who like Hedgecock was acquired on waivers last season, stepped in against Seattle and had a career game with four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Coincidentally, Hixon suffered a concussion in that game and Sinorice Moss came in and caught two touchdowns.
``Everything takes time,'' Ward said. ``Things can't work overnight, it's a process. We had to go through that process and have the ups and downs of past seasons, and then to put it all together last season. To continue it this year is a true testament on coach Coughlin's priority on always having us focused for everything and anything.''
he Ravens are the immediate problem.
How do you run against Ray Lewis and the top rushing defense in the league? How do you put pressure on rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and stop Baltimore's impressive rushing attack?
``We are not looking at two weeks down the road or what we did last week,'' Burress said. ``It is just concentrating on this opponent, prepare the best that we can. The coaches give us a game plan, set our goals for the week on Sundays, and go out and try to accomplish them. When we go out and accomplish our goals, we usually come out on top.''
While the Giants have a clear path to the playoffs, the road to the postseason is tough. All seven teams left on the schedule have winning records.
The Giants like that, though. It's another challenge.
``We know what it takes to win and we are not (messing) with anything. We are just winning,'' Toomer said. ``We are not saying too much about ourselves. We're keeping low and playing on the field and not giving anyone bulletin board information to try to motivate themselves. We are just playing it straight up.''
The people who might be affected most by all the hoopla surrounding the Giants are the fans, especially during these tough economic times. Dr. Alan Hilfer, the chief psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, said that most fans want to be identified with winning hometown teams.
do is have something to make us feel good,'' Hilfer said. ``Right now everyone feels lousy and we need something to feel good about. A winning hometown team is one we can look forward to and anticipate things in a positive way, as opposed to how our 401-Ks are doing.''
Pierce shook his head when asked about all the attention the Giants are getting these days, the distractions it presents and how the team continues to be successful.
``It's funny, people saying we're the best,'' Pierce said. ``One person says that and everyone runs with it. We don't accept it. I don't accept it. I don't want to be the best team on Nov. 13. That's not a good day. February 2: That's a great day. That's the day to be the best team. November is nothing for us.''
Toomer agrees.
``You can become complacent after winning or you get more driven,'' he said. ``I think our team is definitely more driven.''
---
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed to this story.
 

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