On the NFL
9:34 PM CDT, August 23, 2012
ALBANY, N.Y. — When the Giants look in the mirror, what do they see?
Is it the team that was 7-7 late last season, fighting for postseason survival as its coach was in danger of being fired?
Or is it the team that finished with a flourish, stomping on six straight opponents and bullying their way to a Super Bowl championship.
You couldn't blame the Giants for having an identity crisis.
"Guys feel we have something to prove," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have to prove we are legit. We have to prove we are a team that can play consistently for a whole season and be a dominant team."
That's odd coming from a reigning Super Bowl MVP.
The rest of the world doesn't know what to make of the Giants either. Opponents from last year such as the Packers' Clay Matthews and the 49ers' Donte Whitner have indicated they weren't in awe of the Giants.
"It's part of being a Giant," safety Antrel Rolle said of the lack of respect. "We have a lot of fans across the country, but there also are a lot of haters across the country. A lot of people may feel it was a fluke run, maybe luck was on our side. It really doesn't matter to us. There is nothing that can take away what we've done."
The truth is the Giants were no juggernaut.
They were the first seven-time loser to win a Super Bowl; the first champion to finish last in the league in rushing; the first to win a Super Bowl that had a negative point differential and the first to win a Super Bowl that had a four game losing streak.
By comparison to the team with which they share the New York market, the Giants, who have made no splashy additions, virtually have been ignored this summer. The Jets, who missed the playoffs last year but brought in the world's most popular backup quarterback, have drawn all the satellite trucks.
About the only thing that has gotten the Giants notice is punter Steve Weatherford posting a video on YouTube of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul dunking teammate Prince Amukamara in an ice tub.
Sweating in the shadows hasn't been such a bad thing for the G-men.
"Frankly, I enjoy camp being low key," said Manning, who has become known as one of the NFL's best clutch players. "We can just worry about getting better, improving our game. You don't have to deal with the circus."
All of this has made coach Tom Coughlin's job a little easier. There is no talk of a Super Bowl hangover around these Giants.
"We still are hungry," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "This whole thing about us not getting the necessary pub is making us even hungrier."
On the first day of camp, Coughlin brought his team back to the point where they were 7-7. He talked about all the issues that needed improvement then. And then he challenged his men.
"Which team are you?" Coughlin asked. "The 7-7 team or the 6-0 team?"
The Giants believe a 7-7 start won't cut it this time. Nor will finishing with the worst-ranked run game in the NFL.
The Giants used their first-round draft pick on fleet-footed running back David Wilson after bidding adieu to bulldozer Brandon Jacobs, who signed with the 49ers.
"We are going into this season knowing we have to make the run game one of our strengths," right tackle and Oak Lawn native Dave Diehl said. "We understand the threats we have at receiver. We know our quarterback can get the job done. We know once we get the run game going we can have one of the best offenses in the league. And that allows our defense to crank it up."
The Giants defense, with Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka leading the way, can get after quarterbacks with the best of them. Their 48 sacks in 2011 were tied for second in the league.
Said Pierre-Paul, who had 161/2 sacks last year, "Our pass rush will be good, ridiculously good."
It better be because the challenges will be plentiful for the Giants. Based on 2011 records, they have the toughest schedule in the NFL. Among the quarterbacks Pierre-Paul will be trying to bring down are Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.
He also will get an exhibition shot Friday night at Jay Cutler and the Bears in Metlife Stadium.
Of course, games played early in the year don't mean much.
Especially to the Giants.
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