Focus is on the Game, Not the Hoopla

It's the season-opener ... it's the Manning Bowl ... it's a clash between a pair of 2005 division champs. But for most of the players and coaches of the New York Giants, it's the first of a sixteen-game regular season marathon.

To the world outside of the Giants' locker room, Sunday night's game with the Indianapolis Colts represents a piece of history. It's the first-ever matchup between two brothers who are starting quarterbacks.

That's the hype end. Inside the Giants' locker room, there's a far different focus. It's opening night, with all its inherent ramifications. Eli Manning had much more to do this week than worry about how his performance would be received next to his brother Peyton's performance. And the rest of the players had other worries than whether they would stand up to the harsh light of history.

Better the defense should stand up well against Peyton and his two main receivers, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Harrison, of course, is no secret, having stood as one of the league's top receivers and touchdown-makers for years. But it is Wayne, with the AFC's fifth-best number of receptions, 83 for 1,055 yards, who continues to grow. And the combination of the two will give the Giants' refurbished secondary all sorts of problems to handle.

The Giants head into this game with arguably Tom Coughlin's best team, at least on paper. With a renewed secondary that now features former Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison, former Ravens safety Will Demps, and a ball-hawking nickel back in former 49er and Lion R.W. McQuarters, the Giants are not only positioned to increase an already healthy turnover total from last season, but to stop some of the long drives that have exhausted the defense over the past couple of seasons.

While that unit may have its hands full with Manning and his receivers, defending the running game may actually be easier this year. Remember, it's Dominic Rhodes back there, not Edgerrin James. Rhodes was a serviceable backup last year, but he only had 40 carries for 118 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie Joseph Addai sits behind him.

The Giants are fully expecting their own running back, Tiki Barber, to duplicate his career year of 2005, during which he ran for a club record 1,860 yards on 357 carries. Add in the screens he catches out of the backfield, and he is one of the most formidable forces in the NFL. Expect to see plenty of him when Eli isn't looking for Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Tim Carter or Jeremy Shockey in the passing lanes. Consider, too, that the Giants have their offensive line from last season returning intact.

If it comes down to a leg, there are no two better kickers in the league than the Giants' Jay Feely and the Colts' Adam Vinatieri. Feely, the league's second-leading scorer last year, should have the edge in this one because he's totally healthy. Vinatieri, a free agent pickup who forged his reputation in New England as the league's best clutch kicker by far, is working with a chipped bone in his plant foot.

Whatever you do, don't put too much emphasis on this one. It's historic, sure. It's a wonderful opening game between two teams who made the playoffs last season, sure.

But it's still the first of 16 games.

"It's excitement about the start of the regular season," Coughlin said. "Everyone knows how this game is being billed. But there's been more focus in the classroom."

SERIES HISTORY: Regular season series is tied at 6-6. The Giants won the last matchup 44-27 on December 22, 2002 as quarterback Kerry Collins completed 23-of-29 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Amani Toomer had 10 catches for 204 yards and three touchdowns while tight end Jeremy Shockey hauled in seven passes for 116 yards. The Giants scored 34 second-half points in the win. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning completed 30-of-46 passes for 365 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison had 10 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, while receiver Reggie Wayne added six receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

The last meeting in Giants Stadium was Nov. 14, 1999, a 27-19 Colts win. The most historic game these teams ever played was when the Colts resided in Baltimore in 1958 -- the NFL Championship Game tabbed "The Greatest Game Ever Played." The Colts won 23-17 in overtime on a 1-yard touchdown run by Alan Ameche. They also faced the Colts in the 1959 championship game, losing 31-16.


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