Champions and Then Some

New York's Ahmad Bradshaw celebrates with Kevin Boss after Boss scored during Sunday's win at Arizona, the Giants' 10th in 11 games.
New York's Ahmad Bradshaw celebrates with Kevin Boss after Boss scored during Sunday's win at Arizona, the Giants' 10th in 11 games. (By Matt York -- Associated Press)
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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The New York Giants were hopeful yesterday they will have tailback Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Plaxico Burress back in their lineup for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

But they were less than certain of it, and the urgency for those two to play seemingly was lessened by Sunday's triumph at Arizona, accomplished with Jacobs on the inactive list and Burress lasting just three plays.

The Giants keep on winning -- no matter, it seems, what happens to them. They won last season's Super Bowl on the strength of a pass rush led by defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. So what has happened after Strahan retired in the offseason and Umenyiora suffered a season-ending knee injury during a preseason game?

The defending champions have gotten better.

They have a record of 10-1 after their 37-29 victory over the Cardinals, and they lead the NFC East by three games over the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. There is seemingly little debate in league circles, especially now that the Tennessee Titans lost their first game, that they are the NFL's best and most complete team.

"We were down a couple of stars today, but we feel very confident in the people that are going to back up anybody on this football team," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck told reporters after the win over the Cardinals.

The Giants weren't a dominant team last season. They struggled early, and had things fall into place at the right time. Eli Manning, with virtually no warning, suddenly became a championship-caliber quarterback in the playoffs, and the Giants crafted one postseason upset after another.

But now, they are a dominant team, one that can beat even a good opponent in a variety of ways.

A week before beating the Cardinals, they steamrolled the Baltimore Ravens at Giants Stadium. The Giants piled up 207 rushing yards in that game, the first 200-yard rushing performance against the Baltimore defense since 1997.

Against the Cardinals, it was time for the Giants to flex their passing-game muscles as Manning threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns.

"I've thought for the last couple weeks that we were going to have to throw the ball," Manning said during his postgame news conference Sunday. "We just happened to run the ball really well in those games, so I wasn't called upon to throw it as much. But I had a feeling that in this game, we really were going to have to throw it well."

No Jacobs? No matter. The Giants have Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw to split carries at tailback. No Burress? So what? They are deep at wide receiver with Amani Toomer, Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss and rookie Mario Manningham.

"It's kind of the way this team has developed in terms of the talent that we have and the ability of the guys to say, 'Okay, we have an injury. We have to play at a higher level and the next guy that comes in has to do the job,' " Coach Tom Coughlin said during his postgame news conference Sunday.

Coughlin told reporters yesterday Burress was having more tests on his injured hamstring to determine the wide receiver's playing status. Burress missed practice time last week, but the Giants decided to have him play Sunday. Burress, however, told the coaches he couldn't continue after a downfield sprint for a deep pass on the game's third play.

The Giants had expected Jacobs to play in Arizona after an MRI exam taken the day after the Ravens game showed no serious damage to his knee. Jacobs was listed as probable on the Giants' official injury report.

But, according to Coughlin, Jacobs's knee bothered the running back Saturday night and Sunday morning. The Giants put Jacobs on their game-day inactive list, which drew a complaint by the Cardinals to the league because Jacobs had been listed as probable. Coughlin denied wrongdoing, saying the Giants genuinely had expected him to play.

Now they'll spend another week wondering whether they'll have Burress and Jacobs. But as they demonstrated this past Sunday, there's no real need for them to fret about it too much.

"We had two of our normal starters out of the game tonight, but the guys rose up and played well tonight," Coughlin said on Sunday. "We have a lot of guys involved, and that's how it has to be in this league because here you are. We play one more game in November, and when you line up for practice on Wednesday you're going to have to work."

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