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New York looks for first postseason win since 2000

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants seemingly have everything in position to finally win a playoff game under Tom Coughlin.

The battles with the coach are over. The infighting among the players has ended. Eli Manning is coming off a good game. The Giants are confident after a great performance against New England and healthy for the most part.

It remains to be seen if that's enough to propel New York (10-6) to its first win in three postseason games under Coughlin when it faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) on Sunday in another road game for a team that went 7-1 away from Giants Stadium this season.

"I have been trying to tell you guys from day one that this is a different mentality and different character on this team," linebacker Antonio Pierce said Monday. "It is nowhere near what '06 was like and it hasn't just started just because of the playoffs coming upon us."

While Pierce didn't say it, the Giants are not distracted heading into the playoffs.

The creation of a player council this season has helped Coughlin get his message to the players.

In 2005, they won the NFC East but there was still some resentment between Coughlin and the players over all his rules. It spilled over after New York was shut out by Carolina at home in a wild-card game -- a game that might have been Manning's worst as a pro.

The high hopes of the 2006 season were dashed by injuries in the second half of the season and a dysfunctional locker room that developed after halfback Tiki Barber announcement a planned retirement during the season.

New York finished 2-6 down the stretch and barely made the playoffs with an 8-8 record. A week later, the postseason ended in Philadelphia.

This year has been different. After an 0-2 start, the Giants won six straight games. They went 4-4 in the second half, but they played well the last five weeks, winning road games at Chicago, Philadelphia and Buffalo and pushing New England for four quarters in a 38-35 loss Saturday night that secured the Patriots' place in history.

Manning, who threw for four touchdowns against the Patriots, believes the Giants are better prepared for the playoffs.

"I think we have just been through more," Manning said. "Later in the year, we have been playing better football and winning games in December and winning those tough games. I think we are a year older and have been in this situation before. I think the more times you are in a situation the more prepared you are."

As an organization, the Giants need to win a playoff game. Starting with the 34-7 Super Bowl loss to Baltimore in January 2001, they have lost four straight postseason games. They blew a 24-point second-half lead in losing to the San Francisco 49ers in 2002. They were not competitive against Carolina (23-0) two years ago. The game against Philadelphia (23-20) was close, but the Giants came up short.

Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan downplayed the playoff futility.

"I think the pressure, for us, is just to win the game," Strahan said. "I don't think anybody is thinking about the past, or the last time you won the playoff game. For a lot of guys that is irrelevant."

Manning, who has never won a playoff game, added there is urgency with every postseason.

"We want to keep this season going on and keep playing in the playoffs and take it as far as we can," he said. "You always prepare hard and play hard in this game so hopefully we will be able to find a way to win this game."

If there is a concern, it was the injuries from Saturday's game against the Patriots. Starting weakside linebacker Kawika Mitchell and center Shaun O'Hara sprained knees and cornerback Sam Madison aggravated a pulled stomach muscle.

The 35-year-old Strahan isn't worried.

"We know that we are very capable of winning against anybody," said Strahan, who said he will not think about retirement until after the season ends. "It is just our mind-set. That is what I feel about this team; (we're) very talented. We can go as far as we want to go as long as we make up our minds that we want to continue to play."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.

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