Giants trying to stay hot

The New York Giants may be the hottest team in the NFC, but they are trying to stay composed and avoid getting too caught up in the excitement. A near-collapse from a year ago is a major reason for this mind-set.

The Giants look to extend their winning streak to five games and continue their push for first place in the NFC East when they host the struggling San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

After opening the season with disappointing losses to East-leading Dallas and NFC North-leading Green Bay, New York (4-2) has recovered to win its last four games.

The Giants defeated Atlanta 31-10 on Monday night, racking up 491 offensive yards - their most since January 2002 - to move within one game of the first-place Cowboys.

"Honestly, I think the reason we're playing so good is because we've still got that 0-2 mentality," middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "We went into this game thinking we were the 1-4 team."

While New York is in the midst of the longest winning streak in the NFC, it knows that could all change quickly.

Oddsmakers from have made New York -9.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 39.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 71% of bets for this game have been placed on New York -9.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Last season, the Giants won five straight games from Oct. 8-Nov. 5 to own a 6-2 record at the halfway point of the season. However, they managed just two more wins the rest of the way and won a tiebreaker to get the final postseason spot.

New York is taking a game-by-game approach this season, trying to avoid the frustration of a year ago.

"We do have a sign that says: 'Prepare, practice and play as if you lost your last game,'" Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I think that mentality kind of says it all. You can never be satisfied.

"There is a very good sense of responsibility. Leadership is doing a good job. There is a solid feeling in the locker room that if we stick together and everybody does their job, we can win."

Eli Manning was 27-of-39 for 303 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons - his highest yard total since a 312-yard performance against Dallas in Week 1 - but threw two interceptions and fumbled once. Manning has thrown for 856 yards during the winning streak, but has the same number of TDs and interceptions in that span (six).

Plaxico Burress is tied with New England's Randy Moss for the NFL lead with eight touchdown receptions, and has at least one in every game. He caught six balls for 97 yards and a score on Monday.

New York's ground attack has also been outstanding the last two weeks, amassing 188 yards and two touchdowns in each of those games. It had averaged 99.3 yards and scored just two total rushing TDs in its first four games.

The Giants' defense has also been getting things turned around. After allowing 97 points in the first 10 quarters of the season, they have yielded just 20 points in the past 14.

While New York has been clicking on both sides of the ball, San Francisco has been spiraling downward.

After averaging 18.5 points in winning their first two games of the season, the 49ers (2-3) have scored a total of 26 points in losing their last three contests.

The 49ers are coming off a much-needed bye week, hoping the extra time will help them solve their offensive woes and allow some of their players to get healthy.

Alex Smith is chief among the injured players who may return. Smith suffered a separated right shoulder on the third play of a 23-3 loss to Seattle on Sept. 30 and missed a 9-7 loss to Baltimore the next week.

The third-year quarterback has practiced this week, but is unsure whether he will get enough work in to be ready for Sunday's game.

"It's tough not to get the reps and then go out there and play at the highest level," Smith said.

In the loss to Baltimore with Trent Dilfer starting, San Francisco had just one first down and 38 total yards at halftime before finishing with a season-low 163 yards - the fourth time in five games the team has finished with 194 yards or fewer.

"There's a lot of searching going on,'' coach Mike Nolan said. "If it was just one (area), it would be a simple problem. But there have been dropped balls, missed blocks, missed protection calls. It could be scheme. It could be play-calling. It could be the head coach. It could be a lot of things."

Frank Gore rushed for 52 yards on 16 carries against the Ravens, and has been held under 82 yards in each game this season after recording nine 100-yard games a year ago while averaging 105.9 yards a game.

The Niners also were without tight end Vernon Davis (partially torn MCL in his right knee) and left tackle Jonas Jennings (personal reasons) against Baltimore. Both could be back in the lineup for this game.

"We were inconsistent before we had injuries, and we were inconsistent (last week)," Nolan said. "That's what bothers me, and that's why we have to really dig down and find the answers for this thing."

The Giants won 24-6 on Nov. 6, 2005 behind two fourth-quarter touchdown runs from Brandon Jacobs in their last meeting with San Francisco. Manning threw for 251 yards and one TD, as New York snapped a six-game losing streak in the series, including two playoff losses.

By: AP Staff Writers - Email Us

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