by Derek Constable
Last season for the New York Giants was like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine, the boys came into the fall feeling strong and still high off their 2007 Super Bowl victory, eager to prove their last minute win over the Patriots was no fluke.
They went 4-0 to start the season, averaging 34 points per game and were one of the last undefeated teams still standing in October, but after going an amazing 11-1 to start the year and looking like a serious title contender for '09 the team "shot themselves in the foot" -- and so did star receiver Plaxico Burress.
Burress was arrested in early December, after accidentally shooting himself in the leg while carrying a firearm into a New York City club.
The injury as well as the court case kept Big Blue's No. 1 receiver off the field for the remainder of the season and the team's ability to put points on the board dropped considerably.
They still won the NFC East with a 12-4 record but lost three of the last four games of the regular season and couldn't even score a touchdown with home field advantage in the playoffs.
Big Blue had suffered all year long to replace the powerful pass rushing duo that got the team to a Super Bowl just one year earlier, but after losing two Pro Bowl DEs like Michael Strahan [retirement] and Osi Umenyiora [INJURED IN PRESEASON/torn cartilage] the only thing that kept the team in games against other potent offenses was outscoring the competition and controlling the clock with 'Earth, Wind and Fire.'
The running game never disappeared, but slowed down some when New York chose to rest RB Brandon Jacobs for the post-season and when Burress disappeared so did the catches in the "Green Zone" as Coach Tom Coughlin likes to call it.
Neither WR Dominik Hixon nor Steve Smith were able to make a considerable impact downfield and without a real target for Manning, teams were able to force the Giants to go three and out too easily.
Division rivals like the Eagles and Cowboys were finally given time to think in the pocket thus their QBs Tony Romo and Donovan McNabb completed much more passes against a fatigued Giants' defense which was kept on the field too long.
The Giants rolled out the red carpet for McNabb and the Eagles in the playoffs on Jan. 11 as they failed to score even a single touchdown and put absolutely no pressure on the quarterback. Brian Westbrook went crazy on the team as usual and in spite of a 65-yard return by Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw on the opening kickoff, New York couldn't muster up any offense, gained no momentum and lost miserably 23-11.
This season the Giants will look to make another run at a division title and hopefully to look a little more menacing in the playoffs. They've still got the majority of the staff which won them a recent Super Bowl and with key additions made in the draft at wide receiver, general manager Jerry Reese has gone right to heart of the problem.
Manning didn't complete a single touchdown pass after Burress was suspended from the NFL -- and that's just not going to fly this season.
Key factors will be whether or not the team can find a replacement at the No. 1 wide receiver slot and New York feels they've made the right moves drafting Hakeem Nicks (UNC) and 6-foot-6-inch Ramses Barden (Cal-Poly). The passing game will ride or die with these guys as Manning is desperately looking to find a new target in the end zone.
Opposing quarterbacks better practice running backwards as Umenyiora is back at DE and will play opposite Justin Tuck who impressed fans in his absence last season. The Giants have also helped to round out their defense with rookie LB Clint Sintim and former Cowboys DL Chris Canty, but overall the changes on 'D' will reflect more upon the coaching staff than the roster as coach Bill Sheridan takes over for New York as defensive coordinator.
The Giants never seem to play their best when it's expected of them, but often rise to the occasion when no one sees it coming. This is a bit of a rebuilding year for the team as they try to reinvent their offense without Burress and hope "Earth, Wind and Fire" can live on without one of its elements [RB Derrick Ward] ... but while fans and opposing defenses may not expect to see rookies like Nicks and Barden succeed right away, that's just what the Giants are hoping for.