Plaxico Burress: The Phantom of the Meadowlands

Matt PhilieContributor IJanuary 12, 2009

The big divisional championship game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles was a shock.

One player, for sure, wasn't there.

The tall one, the one with the hairy chin, No. 17. Know who I’m talking about yet? He’s the guy awaiting a possible trial for a pair of felony gun charges.

He's Plaxico Burress, but you can call him The Phantom of the Meadowlands.

Unlike his healthy teammates, his regular season ended, in Manhattan, past his bedtime and a month too soon. His numbers weren't much: four touchdowns, and a single 100-yard game. His excuse?

He was hurting much of the time, and because of this he was showing up late for meetings. Nonetheless, the Giants did just fine without him, finishing 12-4, first place in the NFC, earning a bye week and home playoff games as long as they kept winning.

You could make the argument that their star receiver was missed in December when they lost three of their four games. If that makes it sound as if the Giants aren't coming into these playoffs anywhere close to the strong finish they put up last year, well, let's face it, they aren't.

Burress came through with the biggest games last January. When the Giants beat Green Bay for the NFC title, he caught 11 passes for 151 yards. His numbers were down significantly in the Super Bowl but, as we're learning, who cares about numbers?

He caught Eli Manning's first pass in the Super Bowl, a 14-yard pass, and his next catch, for 13 yards, came with 35 seconds left. It helped that he was standing in the end zone.

The Giants gave him the healthy contract extension he was after. But it could have been so much better.

The Eagles, Sunday's visitors to Giants Stadium, are a team Burress usually beats up on. The Giants are 6-1 against Philadelphia in regular season games he's played in since he signed in 2005. They lost a playoff game against his pigeons in 2006 but not because he didn't try — he only had two touchdowns and five catches.

The Eagles love to blitz. At one time, they sacked Manning 18 times in a three-game stretch. But because they insist on sending in all those bodies, it works in Burress' favor. He usually has to deal with double-teaming varmints, but the Eagles try to cover him with only one defender. Burress doesn't mind it at all.

But there is no Burress this time. Nobody to look down at cornerbacks. No late-game target. It's like the Phillies coming to Shea without Pat Burrell.

The Giants refuse to sound anything close to edgy about Burress' absence.

"I don't think anybody on this team is concerned with, 'Hey, can I make the same plays Plaxico made?'" said Giants center Shaun O'Hara. "He always has big games against the Eagles, [but] I don't think anybody is going to say, 'I have to do this because Plaxico did that.'"

There's no arguing that the Eagles hold the hot hand now. They were three-point favorites at Minnesota and made it look semi-easy. A confident Donovan McNabb threw for 300 yards. He was sacked three times and was clobbered regularly but most of those trips to the carpet ended in completions anyway.

"It's crazy that people keep doubting this guy," said Antonio Pierce.

The Giants haven't had a meaningful game since Carolina, more than two weeks ago. The gritty Eagles came from out of nowhere to reach this second round. "Being the 2007 Super Bowl champions doesn't scare anybody," Pierce said. "For us, it is about going out there and getting our swagger back, getting that chip on our shoulder..."

They had plenty of swagger in the regular season. Do they really have to find it again?