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Defending champs have ability to rise above giant distractions

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Nick Wass / Associated Press
Without Plaxico Burress, Eli Manning completed five passes to three different players in the Giants' win.


LANDOVER, Md. -- Antwaan Randle El. Anthony Gonzalez. Ted Ginn Jr.. Matt Jones. Steve Breaston. All of them have more receptions this season than Plaxico Burress, as do dozens of other wide receivers around the NFL.

Burress has done better drawing headlines, suspicion, and now, likely criminal charges than he has at drawing double coverage and helping the New York Giants become one of the league's top teams. The Giants improved to 11-1 on Sunday with a 23-7 victory over the Washington Redskins . Burress was not there; he was healing from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right thigh.

While Burress prepared to speak with police and meet with NFL security about the accidental shooting that took place at a Manhattan night club Friday night, his teammates continued doing what they've done all season -- win without him.

Streeter Lecka / Getty Images
Since Game 3, Amani Toomer (81) is one of five receivers not named Plaxico Burress to lead the Giants in receiving.
Giants' leading receiver in last 10 games
Gm Player Rec.-yards Burress
3 Amani Toomer 7-60 3-45
4 Domenik Hixon 4-102 0-0
5 Steve Smith 9-94 4-58
6 Steve Smith 4-39 3-24
7 Derrick Ward 5-43 3-15
8 Steve Smith 5-29 3-34
9 Kevin Boss 6-69 1-17
10 Derrick Ward 4-54 3-47
11 Domenik Hixon 6-57 0-0
12 Amani Toomer 5-85 0-0

"We all are upset about what happened with Plaxico and hopefully he will be fine," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Once we knew he was going to be OK, the guys were all able to go back to focusing on the reason we are here."

Burress signed a two-year contract extension with $11 million guaranteed just before catching 10 passes for 133 yards in a season-opening victory over Washington. The following week, against St. Louis, he had five catches. Since then, he has surpassed the three-catch mark only once -- in a Week 6 loss to Cleveland, the Giants' lone defeat of the season in which he had four catches.

The Super Bowl hero is good enough to routinely draw double- and triple-coverage, which is why his catch totals might have dwindled this season. He has the ability to be among the best receivers in the NFL. So, too, did former tight end Jeremy Shockey, who was held in equal, if not higher regard.

New York won the Super Bowl with an unhappy Shockey out of action with an injury. They're doing just fine without him, having dealt him to New Orleans. No one knows if Burress will recover to play for the Giants again this season. No one knows if the organization wants him to.

Burress might have more pressing matters to focus on anyway. If the gun that was used in the incident was unlicensed, he might be spending more time and energy in courts the next few weeks pleading for mercy against New York's strict gun laws.

What could be more damaging to the Giants is the role starting linebacker Antonio Pierce played in the incident Friday night. Pierce was reportedly with Burress when the shooting occurred and could be dealing with some of the same problems as his teammate. Pierce, the defensive spark and glue, spent part of Saturday answering questions from NFL security.

After starting and registering six tackles against the Redskins, he also answered questions from reporters and acknowledged an "incident" Friday night, but he declined to discuss details.

"I got a job to do," he said. "I am a professional football player and my job is to focus on that. That's my only focus. Come Sunday at 1 o'clock, when the whistles blow in between those lines, and you're in the stadium, that's the only focus you've got. That's the only thing this team ever does is focus on its opponent and the challenges at hand."

When asked if he was concerned about his situation, Pierce said, "I'm fine where I'm at. These people holding these mics in my face looking at me, I'm not worried about what they say or what anybody else says."

Pierce might be the only person who knows much about Burress, what happened or what could happen.

Before the Redskins game on Sunday, team president and CEO John Mara and general manager Jerry Reese said they hadn't heard from Burress. Reese said he had called his wideout but hadn't heard back. Mara and Reese added that once they finish their in-house investigation they will explore all options in how to deal with Burress, which could include disciplinary action.

"He is a friend and teammate and that's all we're worried about," Eli Manning said. "We've gotten an update and have heard he's doing well. We hope he's around soon and in the locker room because everyone would like to see him."

Note Manning's remark about seeing him in the locker room, not about him being on the field. While it might have been him prioritizing the importance of Burress' health, Manning also let it be known the Giants are just fine without him.

The Giants' ability to compartmentalize on- and off-field duties shows professionalism -- something that doesn't always linger following Super Bowl championships, when stardom and recognition are introduced to a lot of players unable to handle either.

That, more than anything, is what makes them so fearsome.

"This team is accustomed to the stresses," Justin Tuck said. "When we're on the football field it's all about the team on the field. I'm not going to say it's easy to get over the distractions but you've got other distractions when you're on the field."

New York had every excuse to break down against a desperate Redskins team that seems to have hit its plateau a few weeks ago and now appears to be on the downside of the NFC East curve. Factor in Washington's enhanced emotions with the somber, yet celebratory, induction of the late Sean Taylor into the team's Ring of Fame in a pregame ceremony and the groundwork was in place for a Giant hiccup.

Yet, New York used all that in its favor, opening the game with a 13-0 surge that left the Redskins reeling and wondering why they couldn't make the same plays when offered the same opportunities. The Giants piled on by going against conventional wisdom and throwing the ball in a steady rain instead of pounding it with the NFL's best running game. Manning completed 21 of 34 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown.

It was his first 300-yard game of the season.

"They are a team that likes to get eight guys in the box, and with the wet conditions we knew they were going to use a lot of man coverage, and that's what they did," Manning said.

Wide receiver Amani Toomer, who had five catches for 85 yards and a 40-yard touchdown, said he felt disrespected that Washington used a single defender to try and press cover him on his touchdown play. He made his move and used his strength to get by Fred Smoot and caught a teardrop ball from Manning down the right sideline for the Giants' first score.

As dissed as he felt then, Toomer withstood a line of post-game questioning about the team's ability -- or lack thereof -- to function properly without Burress.

"Everybody on our team realizes that we have a lot of players," Toomer said.

A lot of players who can catch balls. On that list of those who have caught more this season than Burress are Toomer (39), Derrick Ward (36) and Steve Smith (43), and each is doing his share to help the Giants maintain their winning ways.

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