Paid vacation

Three of the four teams granted byes last Sunday were particularly needy of a Sunday away from football. Chicago, Cincinnati and Kansas City were all 1-3 following four games and at least tied for last place in their respective divisions. The Giants, however, more resembled the fourth team that was off last Sunday, undefeated NFC East rival Philadelphia. <BR><BR>

Thus there was understandable debate in their locker room as to whether Week 6 was an appropriate time to spend some time off the field. The Giants will join the Cardinals, Ravens and Colts on the sidelines Sunday.

"Sometimes the bye week, for a team that's struggling, it can rejuvenate them," said free safety Brent Alexander. "And for a team that's doing well, after a bye week, it can have a letdown."

Tom Coughlin's primary mission this week and next week is to make sure his players don't allow additional rest to shift focus away from facing Detroit on Oct. 24 at Giants Stadium. That task is tricky because while he wants his players physically fresh for the game against the Lions, he needs them mentally sharp, too.

"You have a couple of different challenges on a bye week," Coughlin said. "One is to allow that your team has the proper amount of rest time. But you don't want to get away from (it too much) if you have an edge accomplished. And there are always areas that you need to work on. So you have a couple of different objectives that you have to try to take advantage of during that time."

Coughlin hopes rest and improvement equates to reversing the Giants' troublesome trend following byes during the Jim Fassel era. The Giants went 2-5 following weeks off in Fassel's seven seasons as their head coach. Worse yet, last year they went 0-3 after their earlier bye (Week 4). The losing streak negated a promising beginning to the season (2-1), the Giants never really recovered and Fassel was out of a job barely two months later.

The Giants lost after their bye week the previous season, too, but bounced back from a defeat at Philadelphia to string together three straight wins. They finished 10-6 and qualified for the NFC Playoffs.

Meanwhile, most players prefer to have a week off a little later than the time the league's schedule-makers allotted for the Giants this season. They came closer this year, though, to appeasing Alexander, who always had very early byes while with the Steelers.

"In my mind, it's always the later, the better," Alexander said. "Because (if it's early), you've got a long line of games back-to-back. That's if you're going to have a bye week at all. You could play them straight through, and we could have to do that, too.

"In '93, the year before I came in (the league), they had two bye weeks and everybody said they hated it. They said the season just went on and on that year. Then they went to the one bye week in '94 and it's been pretty good. The closer to the middle (of the season) is probably best for everyone, but you can't just take a league-wide bye week. I guess you could, really . . . we could take one after Week 8 because there are an even number of teams. But I don't know if that would work (for the league or its television partners).

Nevertheless, some players view Week 6 almost as the midway mark of a regular season because they've also played four preseason games and endured three weeks worth of two-a-day practices in Albany, N.Y.

"I think it's in a pretty decent spot," fullback Jim Finn said, "because people don't take into consideration the preseason. So this is sort of the halfway point, as far as weeks, so I think it's a good time. I think it's the perfect time to get some rest."

Right tackle David Diehl recalled the Giants' Week 4 bye in 2003 as being perfectly timed because the then-rookie was accustomed to playing at least four less games and surviving shorter summer camps during his four years at Illinois. Diehl figures many of the team's 2004 rookies will welcome this break because they're starting to feel fatigued due to the NFL grind as well. Flanker Ike Hilliard agreed somewhat with Finn and Diehl, but the eighth-year veteran would still like to have the bye a little later than Oct. 17.

"When you look at that 16-week, 17-week grind," Hilliard noted, "you usually look at Weeks 7, 8, 9, somewhere in there, as the midway point. Because the rotations are different as far as the preseason, even though you have the long camp. The starters are not playing 55-to-75 plays (in preseason games), so it's not as taxing on your body."

Regardless, an achy Hilliard welcomed the time off.

"Anytime you can have a week off to get healthy," he said, "whether it's early or late, it helps, because it's a long year. I think a lot of teams would prefer to have it a little bit later, but then you might have too many guys banged up by that time. You may not have enough starters healthy to make a stretch run, so I think you just have to take it when it comes and deal with it when it is."

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