They cash it in Monday night, when they play the disenfranchised New Orleans Saints, and strictly in a football sense, a home game is an advantage to any team. None other the Dallas coach Bill Parcells, in a triumph of compassion, found a way to complain about it without complaining about it.
"I'd be a fool to complain that the Giants have an extra home game," he said.
But they do.
They won their opener, slamming the Arizona Cardinals all over the field at Giants Stadium 42-19, and now with the Monday night game re-scheduled there, too, they have a positive chance to go 2-0 before flying across country to San Diego and then returning home against St. Louis before their bye week.
"We can't control the schedule," is all coach Tom Coughlin would say. "We play where the league tells us to play. Of course, you feel great sympathy for the city and its people, but this is football. We can't do anything about where the games are played."
Privately, he is probably pleased that the Giants don't have to go to Baton Rouge, La., or San Antonio, Texas, the two cities that will serve as "home" for the Saints the rest of the season. Coaches are creatures of habit
- Coughlin is more so than most - and any disruption, such as a new stadium and city and hotel and practice routine, results in terminal obsessing.
Besides, Coughlin makes himself nervous under the best of circumstances.
Now it is up to his team to prove it can take advantage of a unique opportunity. Teams that go to the playoffs and win championships always have a sterling home record. The 1990 Giants under Bill Parcells, who won Super Bowl XXV, were 8-0 at home. The 2000 Giants under Jim Fassel, flawed as they were, still managed a 5-3 home record (and were 7-1 on the road).
"It is a little creepy," said one of the Giants, "that we are going to be able to take advantage of that terrible situation in New Orleans. But this is football and has nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina. It's a chance for us to get closer to the playoffs."
Now all they have to do is win and not squander their opportunity.
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd meeting. The Giants lead the series 13-9, and have won three of the last four matches. However, they feel they have some retribution coming their way since the last game resulted in a 45-7 Saints victory, the one in which WR Joe Horn scored a TD, reached into the wrapping around the end zone uprights where he had secreted a cell phone and called home to report the event. Horn has since apologized, wisely so.
NOTES, QUOTES --P Jeff Feagles wrested the all-time NFL record away from former Giants' punter Sean Landeta when he hit the 1,368th of his career. He now has 1,370. The last time the Giants scored TDs on a punt and kickoff return in the same game was 1955, when the late Jimmy Patton did both against the Redskins. Last week, the Giants got a 95-yard kickoff return score from Willie Ponder, last year's NFL leader in return yardage average (29.6), and a 52-yard punt return TD from Chad Morton.
--Coach Tom Coughlin seems to be heading toward more work for rookie RB Brandon Jacobs, at the cost of fewer carries for star Tiki Barber - and that's just fine with Barber. "I do outside running well, Brandon is so big he's like a truck going inside, and I think we work well together," he said. "Besides, getting a little rest from the pounding isn't bad, either." The fourth-round rookie Jacobs is 6-4 and 260.
--Several of the Giants were curious why Cardinals coach Denny Green declined a penalty after a punt that had placed the Giants on their own 48-yard line. The 12 men on the field penalty would have given the Cardinals the chance to punt again and perhaps keep the Giants pinned down a little more in their area. "No comment," said DE Michael Strahan. "Just say thanks."
--Handling tickets for the unexpected home game produced an unexpected result - demand for the game was less than anticipated. The Giants broke the ticket sales into three phases. First came the Saints season ticket holders and other Saints fans; then the Giants season ticket holders; then those on the Giants' waiting list and, finally, the general public. It does not appear that this game will be a sellout unless there is a rapid increase in sales over the weekend.
--The Giants have had three kickoff returns for touchdowns in their past six games, two by Ponder and one by Derrick Ward. Ponder had a 91-yarder against Pittsburgh last season and Ward took one back 92 yards in Washington, also last season. Ponder is averaging 31.3 yards per kickoff return in his career, ahead of the 30.56 average recorded by Hall of Famer Gale Sayers.
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 - career TD passes thrown by QB Eli Manning, all of them have at home.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I am not that excited about the all-time punting record, and I had no plans to ask for the ball. Why? Well, it might have been a good 'kicking ball' and in that case I'd like to leave it in the game." - Jeff Feagles, now the NFL's all-time leader in total punts.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Giants released two players from their practice squad, RB Mike Jemison and DB Kevin Timothee, and signed two others, DE Bret Eddins and DB Adrian Ward. Eddins was in training camp and made it to the final cut.
--There is some thought being given to try rookie CB Corey Webster at the starting LCB position instead of incumbent Will Allen. Webster has played well when given the chance and Allen is still giving up too much yardage on receptions, mostly because he is playing 8 yards off his man. This is no doubt part of defensive coordinator Tim Lewis' strategy to prevent deep completions, but it appears there are 8- to 12-yard completions open all day on Allen's side of the field.
--DT William Joseph, after two years of being labeled a first round bust, has suddenly started to play well and register some impact. He has been beating the much quicker starting ends, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, off the ball on snap counts. Considering he weighs 315 pounds, that's an accomplishment. "Willie Joe," as he is known by his teammates, had a sack, four tackles and two batted balls in the opener vs. Arizona.
--RT Kareem McKenzie (sprained ankle) appears ready to play Monday night, which would send veteran Bob Whitfield back to the bench. Whitfield, signed this spring after 13 NFL seasons, came in midway through the second quarter and played with authority. "He is disrupting plays and getting solid hits on the quarterback, too," said Coughlin.
--WR Amani Toomer, for the first time in 98 consecutive games, failed to catch a single pass. Last year, he and WR Ike Hilliard (now with Tampa Bay) became the only starting pair in the NFL without a single TD reception for the entire season.
--RCB Will Peterson (knee) "declined" the chance to play last Sunday and an infuriated coach Tom Coughlin immediately declared him inactive. "He practiced the last few days but in the morning on game day he said he didn't think he could go," Coughlin said. "He didn't feel he could help our team, he didn't feel he could make the plays that he might be asked to make."
GAME PLAN: The Giants are facing a more dangerous offense than it might seem in the Saints, who only need to get their key players moving for the unit to be potent. They must stop RB Deuce McAllister, of course, and then they have to worry about QB Aaron Brooks throwing to WRs Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth. Defensively, the strongest part of the Saints is the front line, which might prove to be formidable against the running of Tiki Barber.
So the Giants will attempt to take McAllister out of the game, which would put pressure on Brooks and his receivers and at the same time eliminate the danger of a strong running attack. They will want to run rookie Brandon Jacobs, 6-4 and 260, inside to soften the line and then get Barber going wide. The patterns they might like most for Eli Manning to throw will be the deep middle route by TE Jeremy Shockey and the medium-to-deep sideline route by WR Plaxico Burress.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Giants LDE Michael Strahan will go against rookie RT Jammal Brown of Oklahoma. Brown has played well all summer and in the opener vs. Carolina, but Strahan's 12 years of experience might turn this match into a learning session for the youngster.
Saints WR Joe Horn figures to have a big day. If Will Allen starts at LCB he'll have a healthy cushion in which to make his moves (Allen plays deep off the receiver) and if the coaching staff goes to second-round draft pick Corey Webster, he'll have a rookie to exploit.
Saints RB Deuce McAllister is going to have to clear out the middle of the Giants defense, not an easy job with the sudden improvement of DT William Joseph and the addition of MLB Antonio Pierce from Washington.
INJURY IMPACT: RT Kareem McKenzie (sprained ankle) left in the second quarter last week and was replaced by veteran Bob Whitfield, who played well. The ankle should be fine and Whitfield will go back to his usual position, backing up LT Luke Petitgout.
TE Jeremy Shockey (sprained ankle) left with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and insists he's fine and will play. If he doesn't, however, the offense would lose a great deal since the backup TE, Visanthe Shiancoe, isn't much of a receiver and not as good a blocker, either.
RCB Will Peterson (knee) opted out of playing last week and should be all right this time around. But will he play? Rookie Corey Webster is coming on strong and coach Tom Coughlin was visibly annoyed at Peterson's reluctance to play vs. Arizona.