LANDOVER, Md. - The New York Giants have shoved every distraction aside, including a shooting incident involving their star receiver, to become as dominant as, say, a Chicago Bulls team with Michael Jordan.
Perhaps that’s no coincidence.
At one of the first meetings of training camp, coach Tom Coughlin discussed the 1991-92 Bulls as a team for the Giants to emulate in the bid to repeat as Super Bowl champions. That was the first season that MJ won a back-to-back, and the Giants remained solidly on pace to keep up with His Airness after Sunday’s 23-7 victory over the Washington Redskins.
“That really kind of set our whole season going and focused in the right direction,” receiver Amani Toomer said. “And we’ve been answering every call ever since.”
Added defensive end Justin Tuck: “Maybe everybody wants to have something to do with Michael Jordan.”
Jordan would certainly approve of the 11-1 record, as well as the way the Giants aren’t letting anything — on or off the field — get in the way. Two days after Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself at a Manhattan nightclub, the Men in Blue braved a dreary mid-Atlantic rain to hold Clinton Portis to a season-low 22 yards and produce Eli Manning’s first 300-yard game of the season.
“We can’t fly yet,” Tuck said. “But on the football field, we’re playing pretty well. Obviously you try your best to stay grounded and stay humble about it, but right now we’re playing good football.”
Burress’ injuries are not serious, but he is expected to deal with a criminal charge over the shooting, his latest misstep in a season of fines and suspension. Coach Tom Coughlin said he addressed the team concerning Burress — then it was back to football.
“Come Sunday, 1 o’clock, when the whistle’s blowing in between those lines, and you’re in the stadium, that’s the only focus you’ve got,” said linebacker Antonio Pierce, who reportedly was with Burress at the time of the shooting. “That’s the only thing this team ever does is focus on our opponent and the challenge that’s at hand. We had a lot of challenges obviously going into this game.”
The Giants have won seven straight, including six in a row against teams with winning records, and have a three-game lead over the second-place Dallas Cowboys with four to play. They completed a sweep of the Redskins by manhandling them in the major statistical categories, including total yards (404-320) and time of possession (35:44-24:16).
They set the tone on the game’s first drive, accepting the Redskins’ dare to throw the ball in the bad weather. With Washington bracing for the run and playing a pressing man-to-man defense, Manning threw for 68 on the drive, capped when Toomer beat Fred Smoot one-on-one down the right sideline for a 40-yard touchdown.
“When a team presses you, they’re kind of disrespecting you as a receiving corps,” Toomer said, “so to get a big play like that early kind of lets them know we’re not afraid of them — and we’ll go right at you.”
The Redskins (7-5) never recovered because they don’t have the offense to do so. They’ve lost three of four — with all three losses at home and only four touchdowns combined in the four games. After a 6-2 start, they now trail Dallas in the wild-card race.
No one epitomized the Redskins’ mood better than coach Jim Zorn, whose day was already rolling downhill when he watched his team fail to stop the Giants’ first extra point — even though the holder bobbled the ball badly.
“To have the holder be able to drop the ball, look up, reset the ball, and have them kick it through was very upsetting. Shouldn’t have happened,” Zorn said. “That kind of set me off, and I started whining about everything. I was on everybody. I was even on myself.”
Before the opening kickoff, the Redskins inducted Sean Taylor into the team’s Ring of Fame to mark the first anniversary of the Pro Bowl safety’s death. Portis honored his fallen friend by running onto the field with a No. 21 flag during the tribute.
Once the game began, it was all Giants. Manning finished 21-for-34 for 305 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Brandon Jacobs, who missed last week’s game with a knee injury, rushed for 71 yards on 21 carries. Toomer caught five passes for 85 yards and a score.
Jason Campbell went 23-for-38 for 232 yards with one interception for the Redskins, whose only score came on a 29-yard run by rookie receiver Devin Thomas on a double reverse.
“There’s still a long road ahead of us,” said Portis, who entered the game as the league’s leading rusher. “We’re not out of the playoffs. Back two weeks ago, everybody was crucifying the Cowboys. Now they’re back to America’s greatest team. Now we’re in the same situation.”
Notes: Portis suffered a sprained neck when hit by cornerback Terrell Thomas at the end of a 15-yard gain on a screen pass in the second quarter. He returned to the game in the next series. ... The Giants played without DT Fred Robbins (shoulder), giving Jay Alford his first NFL start. ... Redskins DT Kedric Golston (foot) was inactive, and LB Marcus Washington (ankle) missed his second straight game.
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