The “no” answers were dispensed like Pez every time the questions involved either “Plaxico Burress” or “the events of last week.” The other answer was unleashed to every question relating to the way the Philadelphia Eagles interrupted the Giants' triumphant march through the 2008 NFL schedule.
Not that anyone was believing any of it. It would be impossible not to be affected by the week the Giants had just gone through. And it would also be impossible for any team to admit it. That’s just how professional athletes are. The Cubs deny that 100 years of losing affects them in the postseason. Alex Rodriguez denies that pressure affects him in clutch situations. The Giants deny that a week of distractions was distracting.
But it was clear that something was wrong with the Giants on Sunday in the Meadowlands and impossible not to link it to the media storm that descended on them after Burress, their most dangerous receiver — on and off the field, as it turns out — blew a hole in his thigh with an unlicensed handgun in a New York City night club. Antonio Pierce, their defensive leader and middle linebacker, had been with Burress on the night of the accident and spent his week talking to lawyers and trying to convince police investigators that they didn’t need to file charges against him for his role in the affair.
And just by coincidence, the offense played its worst game of the year, and Pierce and the defense were thoroughly dominated by the Eagles’ offensive line.
The Giants can call it a bad week. We call it cause and effect.
If the Giants come out with the same lack of focus and passion against Dallas and absorb another bad loss, it’s going to be panic time.
You can lose to a team that’s far more desperate than you are and still go home knowing you played well. That wasn't the case Sunday.
“We didn’t play very well,” Coughlin said. “We have no excuses. We got beat on the field.”
So, do you think the events of the past week had an effect on the way your guys played?
“No, I don’t.”
Pierce committed two dumb penalties and was victimized by the Eagles' Brian Westbrook on a 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown that sealed the Giants’ fate. Afterward, he was almost comical in his determination to stay on message. Consider the following actual exchange with reporters:
“Is it difficult…”
“…to be investigated…”
“…and then have to play a game?”
OK, if it wasn’t the past week that made you guys play like the Cincinnati Bengals, what was it, Antonio?
“It’s not an excuse. The Philadelphia Eagles came ready to play, and they made more plays than the New York Giants today.”
He stood in the media scrum a decent amount of time, the rage at what had happened coming off him like heat waves.
“Get ready to play the Dallas Cowboys,” he said when asked what’s next for him and his team. “There’s nothing been lost by this,” he added.
He was right about that. It was a lousy day weather-wise and a lousy day play-wise. But next week the Giants go to Dallas, where the weather will be more agreeable, and the Giants will have had a week to get their act back together.
They still need just two wins in their final three games against Dallas, Carolina and Minnesota to wrap up the top seed in the playoffs, and it’s possible just one more win will do it. That being the case, the best way to seal the deal is to beat the Cowboys in Dallas.
Do that, and the Burress talk doesn’t go away, but it gets real faint. Do that, and no one’s talking about how a great team was distracted but about how a great team rallied together against adversity.
It’s up to them.
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