Dallas, Washington and Green Bay were supposed to be better than the Giants. They are not. Atlanta went into Sunday with a 5-1 record, but wasn't a better football team. St. Louis? Seattle? Neither one had played better than the Giants.
Only the Eagles are inarguably better than the Giants in the NFC. Philly manhandled the Giants in the opener and are closer to New England than anyone. But the Giants will be closer to Philly by the time they meet again Nov. 28 at Giants Stadium.
We are allowed to think big with the Giants. Only Tiki Barber is having a career year. Kurt Warner can be better. Amani Toomer can be better. Jeremy Shockey can be better.
The linebackers can be better. One of them, newcomer Barrett Green, talked about still feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the schemes. He's yet to go full speed without being inhibited by Xs and Os. Teammates are still searching for that comfort zone as well, and yet the Giants went into Sunday's game on a marvelous roll.
"I definitely haven't shown all the things I can do on the football field as a New York Giant,'' Green said.
Neither has Warner. First he proved his body had more NFL snaps in it. Then he showed signs of returning to Pro Bowl form. Warner's next step is dominating a game here and there.
"We're just finding ways (to win),'' Warner said. "We're feeding off each other. We're becoming, I think, the epitome of a team. We're fighting for each other, we're excited for each other. We're calling on a bunch of people to make plays for us when we need them and everybody is responding. It's what a team is all about.''
It's exactly what a team is about. The Giants are the kind of team that does damage in this league. They are nicely balanced as opposed to relying on one facet of the game. They are extremely well-coached. They are mature enough to stay hungry.
"I think the biggest thing in this kind of situation or setting, it goes back to character,'' Warner said. "Character is a lot about how you handle the peaks and valleys. There's a great deal of character in this room.''
Coughlin was asked why he thinks the Giants will remain balanced given their success. "I think they have good memories,'' he said.
Coughlin was referring to the team's approach, and nose-dive, after lofty preseason expectations a year ago. Nobody is talking about the Giants going to the Super Bowl this season. Not yet.
* * *
Injuries are one intangible that can slow a team's momentum. They played a part in the misery of '03. They could play a part again this season.
Already the Giants have lost four decent players for the season: safeties Shaun Williams and Omar Stoutmire, linebacker-special teamer Wes Mallard and, most recently, third receiver Tim Carter.
Coaches can only plug in so many holes before there is leakage. Gibril Wilson has been superb in place of Williams. The play of Brent Alexander has turned Stoutmire into witness-protection anonymous.
But Carter was starting to play with the confidence and ability Giants brass expected when they took him out of Auburn in the second round three years ago.
Now the Giants will rely on another rookie, sixth-round pick Jamaar Taylor, or second-year players Willie Ponder and David Tyree. Taylor just recovered from a pulled hamstring. Ponder and Tyree are still green wideouts.
One or all of them will be asked to contribute. One or all of them are an injury away from starting.
* * *
The Jets are not as good as the Giants.
Their fast starts have invited comparisons. But there really isn't much of a comparison at all.
The Jets have an edge over the Giants in exactly one category: offensive line.
Quarterback is a push with Chad Pennington and Kurt Warner managing games more than dominating them so far. Running back is a push with Curtis Martin and Tiki Barber each playing terrifically.
The Giants have better receivers, with Jeremy Shockey the difference-maker. Punter Jeff Feagles gives the Giants the edge on special teams. The Giants' defensive line is better. Their secondary is much better. Their linebackers are better.
And if you really want a mismatch, put Coughlin and Herm Edwards on opposite sidelines.
Coughlin is a seasoned pro in preparation and game-day strategy. Edwards may be a master motivator. He may have surrounded himself with quality assistants, Paul Hackett notwithstanding. But Edwards is a shaky game-day coach who still can't get a handle on clock management.
* * *
Tim Carter has dealt with a lot of pain since being drafted by the Giants. He missed the last 11 games of his rookie season with a torn Achilles. He missed the final four games last season with multiple concussions.
Somewhere in there he was carjacked at gunpoint and driven around New Jersey for several hours.
Now, having established himself as a real threat, Carter's going to miss the rest of the season with a fractured hip.
"We feel very badly for Tim,'' Coughlin said. "I know he's real disappointed with having to end the season like this.''
It's fair to wonder if Carter will ever become a dependable NFL receiver. Some players are just injury-prone, with no depth of analysis able to explain it. That would be a shame for Carter, who – despite 4.3-40 speed – has found something he can't run past.
G-Man on the G-Men
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