As Eagles focus, distractions for Giants

December 6, 2008 7:58:12 PM PST
One win away from their first division title since 2005, it's hard to determine which is the the Super Bowl champion New York Giants' biggest opponent: the Philadelphia Eagles or the hoopla surrounding the Plaxico Burress mess. The Eagles (6-5-1) are a tough NFC East rival the Giants (11-1) have beaten in five of last six regular-season games. The Burress situation has been a never-ending drain since the Super Bowl hero accidentally shot himself in the right thigh last weekend at a Manhattan nightclub.

The troubled Burress, who caught the winning pass in the Super Bowl in February, was suspended for the rest of the season on Tuesday for conduct detrimental to the team.

However, that has not put the incident to rest. It's only gotten bigger with middle linebacker Antonio Pierce under investigation for a possible role in a cover-up, and the team and its personnel being scolded for failing to report the incident to police.

"As far as this football team we can only control what we can control," defensive tackle Justin Tuck said. "Us worrying about this issue is not going to help Plaxico, all the people that are involved in it, or this football team. It is not going to help us on the football field and it is not going to help Plaxico off it. Like I said, we can only control what we can control and that is going out and playing good football."

The Giants have done a remarkable job of overcoming distractions in this season after winning an NFL title.

Since upsetting the Patriots in February, Tom Coughlin's crew has overcome the retirement of seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan; the loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora to a knee injury in the preseason; and now three incidents involving Burress: his suspension for an October game, a hamstring injury that limited him to one series against Arizona, and the shooting last weekend.

In each game, the Giants won. Their 11 wins this season make them only the fifth team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl and come back the next season and win more games than in the previous year.

Offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie said all the so-called distractions are not really distractions for this team.

"When we walk into this building, it is about football, and football only," McKenzie said. "This is an escape to an extent. Whatever problem you are having at home or in life itself, it's a chance to focus on work and forget about what is bothering you outside."

The Eagles, who badly need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, are familiar with distractions.

When the Giants last won the NFC East in 2005, the Eagles' season was disrupted by the suspension of receiver Terrell Owens. Philadelphia coach Andy Reid saw two sons deal with legal issues last season, and quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched two games ago.

Coincidentally, the Eagles missed the playoffs in 2005 and last season, and they are in danger of doing it again.

Philadelphia took a step in the right direction on Thanksgiving, pounding the Arizona Cardinals 48-20. McNabb threw for 260 yards and four TDs and halfback Brian Westbrook became the fourth player in NFL history and first since Lydell Mitchell in 1975 to rush for at least 100 yards and score two touchdowns apiece rushing and receiving.

"When you get in this predicament you have to win every game to give yourself a better chance, and we can't focus on what could have been or what we should have done," McNabb said. "We can only focus on what we have to do now. We are playing a tough, tough Giants team that is really playing well right now."

The Eagles will catch a break with Burress out of the picture. He caught a touchdown with his only reception in New York's 36-31 win at Philadelphia last month. He also has seven TD catches in eight games against the Eagles since joining the Giants in 2005.

Domenik Hixon will start for Burress.

Eagles safety Brian Dawkins didn't know if defending the Giants will be easier without Burress, considering New York ran for 219 yards and Eli Manning threw two touchdowns against Philadelphia on Nov. 9.

"Plax definitely brought a weapon to that offense that is unique in his ability to create problems, sometimes," Dawkins said. "But the bottom line is that offensive line has been together forever, they know what they're going to run, they're very good at what they run, the backs know how the offensive line blocks."

The Giants have also shown they can handle distractions. They did last week in beating the Redskins 23-7 in Washington just a day after the Burress incident. They did it last year, too, overcoming an 0-2 start with Tom Coughlin's job on the line and then turning things around late in the season and winning the Super Bowl.

"Unfortunately we have had to deal with it in the past and I think we have done a good job with it," center Shaun O'Hara said.

"So this is just another challenge for us. It is another opportunity for us to focus on the task at hand and be professionals. We have a good track record of it. We have done a great job and I think we are looking forward to doing it again this week."

Under an intense spotlight, Pierce said the game could not come fast enough.

"I am fine," he said. "I am about as focused as I could be. When distractions come up, you turn a negative into a positive and that's my option."


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