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Giants Quickly Display Their Defensive Prowess

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2008

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 4 -- For about 20 minutes before the New York Giants began their 16-7 domination of the Washington Redskins on Thursday night, it seemed as if the home franchise was stuck in the past.

Super Bowl heroes from decades ago were introduced on the field during an extended pregame ceremony featuring a giant replica of the Lombardi Trophy. Jerseys paying homage to past stars -- Mark Bavaro, Phil Simms, Carl Banks -- dotted the stands at Giants Stadium. The outside of the stadium was adorned with a massive "2007 World Champions" banner, and a tribute video to that team played inside, with the public-address announcer calling them "the underdogs that could."

As the current players ran out onto the field, the pregame microphone was handled by a roaring Michael Strahan, the since-retired emotional leader behind last year's surprising Super Bowl run.

And what, exactly, did those active players think of this extended dip into the past?

"I didn't really get to see it much," cornerback Aaron Ross said. "I feel like we were just ready to get out of the tunnel and start playing."

"I missed it all," linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "We didn't get to see nothing. We were in here getting coached up."

"They're going to be doing all that Super Bowl stuff," players said Coach Tom Coughlin told them. "Hey, let's win the game."

Seven months after stopping the undefeated New England Patriots, 17-14, and the best regular season offense in NFL history, the Giants have been largely an afterthought for the past few months, drawing more attention for who was off the field -- Strahan, injured defensive end Osi Umenyiora and injured place kicker Lawrence Tynes, among others -- than for who would be on it. Despite their rings, the Giants were favored by barely more than a field goal against the Redskins and weren't even being picked to win their division by dozens of experts, who often favored the Dallas Cowboys.

"Now they can start flip-flopping like they probably will, do whatever," Pierce said. "Care less. We're 1-0. Care less. One and oh in the division, 1-0."

The Giants' defense that sparked this win featured just six starters from the Super Bowl lineup. Both defensive ends were new starters -- Justin Tuck and converted linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who injured his ankle in the final minute but pronounced himself fine after the game. Veteran journeyman linebacker Danny Clark and Super Bowl reserve Gerris Wilkinson joined Pierce in the starting lineup, and second-year safety Michael Johnson was elevated.

And yet this unit seemed impenetrable for much of its first half of real action: Tuck sacked Jason Campbell on Washington's first offensive play, the Redskins needed 28 minutes to gain more than six yards on a play and the Giants yielded 51 first-half yards.

"We definitely had enough to be excited about," nose tackle Barry Cofield said of the impressive start. "A lot of people have been writing us off. You'd think we struggled last year, as opposed to winning it all. We've got all the motivation in the world."

And, evidently, plenty of room for improvement. Coughlin was typically gruff following the win, saying the team needs to reduce its penalties, tighten up on special teams and force more turnovers. "A work in progress," he said. But he also said he never had to address any issues of post-Super Bowl complacency on his roster, and that none of his players showed signs of dwelling in the past.

"I don't want to go too much about last year, because like I said, this is a new group," Kiwanuka said. "As a D-line and as a complete [defense], we were fine. We knew what we were gonna get. It was just showing it to the world."

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