First ...

Overcoming a 1-2 start, the revitalized Giants appear to have a decent shot at the Super Bowl

Strahan, New York jumping for joy

October 29, 2006|By Alex Marvez | Alex Marvez,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

They shoot. They score.

And they could be going to the Super Bowl.

With all due respect to the undefeated Chicago Bears, the New York Giants are the NFC's most battle-tested playoff contender nearing the midway point of the season. Facing teams with a collective record of 23-15 and playing four of its first six contests on the road, New York enters today's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 4-2 with a 3-0 record in the NFC East.

Plus, the Giants are having fun again thanks to a celebratory gesture introduced by Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan.

In the season's third week, a 42-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated did more than drop New York to 1-2. It threatened to tear the Giants apart after tight end Jeremy Shockey seemingly echoed the thoughts of some teammates about gruff coach Tom Coughlin by saying, "We were outplayed and outcoached."

As Shockey and Coughlin mended fences during the ensuing bye week, Strahan took a page from rapper Jim Jones, who shoots an imaginary jump shot in his music video for the song "We Fly High." Known for flexing his muscles after sacks, Strahan instead feigned popping a jumper after tackling Washington quarterback Mark Brunell as the Giants rebounded with a 19-3 victory over the Redskins.

Other players then began doing what Strahan has described as "ballin' " as the Giants rebounded with a three-game winning streak. And judging by their form, it appears the Giants could give the lowly New York Knicks a challenging pickup game.

"Three [games] ago, we were hapless," Strahan recently told Newsday. "We couldn't stop the run. We couldn't stop the pass. We couldn't do anything right. But we decided to play for each other, to realize that nothing else matters except what's on the field."

That includes the imminent departure of NFL rushing leader Tiki Barber, who plans to retire at season's end and pursue a full-time career as a television journalist. Barber dismissed criticism about his decision - including ESPN analyst Michael Irvin calling him a "quitter" - as ridiculous.

"Honestly, there's been a lot of talk about how this is going to be a distraction, et cetera, and all different other excuses that people have formulated in their minds without taking the time to ask any of my teammates or me, for that matter," Barber said Wednesday. "My teammates understand my position. They respect it. It's not going to push them to fight harder to win a Super Bowl because I think we all want to do it anyway."

Reaching the Super Bowl isn't a slam-dunk for the Giants, especially with a suspect secondary and lack of depth on defense. A good test should come Nov. 12 against visiting Chicago - assuming the Giants first beat the Buccaneers (2-4) and the Houston Texans (2-4).

"I'm starting to get paranoid," said Strahan, who played on the Giants' team that reached the Super Bowl in the 2000 season. "I'm afraid of not winning now. I feel like we've got a good thing going, but we've got to keep it going. We win this one, then it's more important to win the next one."

Alex Marvez writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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