Giants flex depth, ability to adapt in win at Arizona

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals tried their best to give the New York Giants their due. After all, the defending Super Bowl champions had come back to the scene of their recent NFL title triumph and defeated Arizona, 37-29, on Sunday.

Yet Cardinals players said they weren't beat up and bruised and mauled, the supposed after-effects of having to deal with the Giants. They were still standing -- and eager to face New York again in the playoffs. The Giants, some said, weren't all that.

"I want to play them again," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We'll see them in the playoffs."

Added defensive end Antonio Smith: "If it comes up again in the playoffs, if we get an opportunity to play them, it'll be a good game and I think it will be a different game."

Arizona was feeling a little frisky in defeat, a good sign for a franchise that really hasn't mattered until second-year coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff finally started to make something of the well of talent that always seems to be on the roster. The Cardinals fell to 7-4 but with their next victory they will win the lowly NFC West, a division that lost from top to bottom on Sunday.

The Cardinals will get into postseason play and Dockett could get his wish. Arizona will have to figure out a few things by then, especially in the kicking game and how to stop a team as good as New York in more than the run game. The Cardinals are headed in the right direction but the road they and every other team are on goes through New York/New Jersey or wherever the Giants want to call home.

"We take everybody's best shot because everybody wants a piece of the Super Bowl champs," said running back Derrick Ward, who started for the bang-up Brandon Jacobs. "We go into each week humble but contently knowing we're going to move the ball on offense and stop the run on defense. We're going to do what we have to do to get things done."

Even before the Giants snuffed out the Cardinals to improve to 10-1, the argument had been made that they were the best team in the NFL. The victory over a good Cardinals team in Arizona could bolster the evidence that already includes victories over Pittsburgh, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore as part of a six-game winning streak.

The previously undefeated Tennessee Titans finally fell Sunday, dropping their record to 10-1. All things being equal, being defending champs seemingly tilts the scale.

The Giants' take: Titles aren't handed out after 11 games.

The posture is wise. As the Giants well know, as strong as they appear to be, other teams, like Washington and Dallas -- their next two opponents, respectively -- are threats. The Titans, Jets, Steelers and three-fourths of the NFC South can get things going at the right time. There are others, too, but they're all trying to be what the Giants are.

The Giants aren't the team any of those aiming high should plan on adjusting their attitude against, either. The Cardinals learned.

This was billed as the biggest game since the franchise moved from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988. Quarterback Kurt Warner and his trio of lethal receivers -- Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston -- were the Greatest Show on Turf II. This game against the Giants was their proving ground.

"We left a number of plays out there today and against a good football team, you can't do that," Whisenhunt said. "If we don't make mistakes, I feel good about being there in the fourth quarter with a chance to win it."

The Cardinals proved they can get close. For now, that will have to do. They fought back better than most against New York but they simply couldn't stop the Giants when they had to. That's because the Giants showed their legitimacy by adapting, adjusting and exploiting -- something too many teams in the NFL can't or won't do because making excuses are much easier.

Jacobs sat this one out because his knee wasn't 100 percent. He admitted that the Giants' lofty record heading into the game factored into him taking the day off. Also, wide receiver Plaxico Burress left in the first quarter after aggravating a hamstring injury. The pile-moving running back and deep threat were spectators. So what.

Wide receiver Domenik Hixon not only filled in some for Burress but he assumed kickoff return duties from Ahmad Bradshaw. The coaching staff didn't want to expose Bradshaw as much on returns because he might have to play more at running back behind Ward.

Hixon averaged 60 yards on three returns, had a team-high six receptions for 57 yards, one carry for 11 yards and 269 all-purpose yards. Ward had 69 yards on 20 carries and 30 yards on four catches.

Hixon's kickoff returns were huge because they shortened the field and gave Arizona's defense almost no shot of keeping the Giants out of the end zone. When the Cardinals were able to get the Giants in good field position, they couldn't make the stops.

Ward's 1-yard gain on a fourth-and-1 at the end of the first quarter led to him eventually capping the drive with a 1-yard run that put the Giants up 7-3. It was a tone-setter that let everyone know that even with Jacobs out, the Giants could bang when they had to. New York scored on all three of its possessions in the fourth quarter, twice on field goals.

While so much of what the Giants are able to accomplish is the result of role players doing what they're paid to do, what solidifies everything is quarterback Eli Manning. His play is now so smooth and efficient that he's easily overlooked with just about everything else the Giants do.

Think about it: When is the last time you saw three sideline shots of Manning during a game?

Manning completed 26 of 33 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinals. His passer rating was 127.3. Warner, who could be the leader for the NFL's MVP, completed 32 of 52 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown but he also threw a pick, which Manning didn't. Warner also fumbled, which Manning didn't.

Manning's 33 attempts were the third-highest amount he's thrown this season and the most he's chucked since Sept. 21, when he tossed 43 against Cincinnati. His 26 completions tied his season-high, which again, came against the Bengals. The Giants' identity is running the ball but they can throw it, too.

"When we have to, when we need to throw it, we are able to do that and do it well," Manning said.

There isn't much the Giants don't do well, which is why the talk after the game in their locker room wasn't about facing the Cardinals or anyone else in the playoffs. There was some dialogue about home-field advantage in the playoffs but that was mostly reporters posing questions, not players looking too far ahead.

The reality is the Giants are doing what they have to do to repeat. That's winning and making everyone else fearful. The Cardinals aren't completely swayed, which to the Giants means they didn't fully handle their business. That will come later, players say.

There are more important things to worry about in the short term.

"Every week we try to go 1-0," Ward said. "That's what keeps us consistent."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.