A New Man

You can just imagine Plaxico Burress, sitting in the movie room of what he calls his "beautiful South Florida home'' watching tapes of the Giants 2005 season.

He sees himself making incredible catches, sees the touchdowns and the highlights and the leaps and the one-handed grabs. Then he continues viewing and sees something quite disturbing. There he is, sulking on the field, waving his arms in disgust, shrugging his shoulders, shaking his head in anger, gesturing for all to see, pouting as he saunters off the field. There he is, giving off the vibe that cuts across the yards and hits his quarterback, Eli Manning, squarely in the back: I was wide open. How the hell did you miss me?

There is Burress, watching, perhaps rewinding and fast-forwarding, not liking what he's seeing. Sometimes holding a mirror up to one's antics is the best way for reality to set in. Burress did not appreciate the moody receiver he was turning into and, sitting at home down south, quietly decided to do something about it.

"I was just looking at myself on film last year ... just looking at my body language and evaluating myself and I said 'Hey, that's something I need to get rid of. It kind of showed me that I was getting down on my quarterback. That's something I don't want to do, something I'm trying to eliminate from my game. If I drop a ball or he makes a bad pass, go the sideline and we'll figure it out over there. Don't try to show him up.''

This was exactly what Burress detractors last season wanted to see pounded into his head, as so many of his exploits catching the ball were overshadowed by his second-half swoon, when his production went down and his grumpiness went up. It wasn't so much that Burress was blaming Manning for not getting him the ball, but the way in which he gestured and carried on, without saying a word, left observers to speculate about all sorts of chemistry problems that either did or did not exist.

The fines for arriving late to team meetings, the little jabs at coach Tom Coughlin, those were annoyances that players could live with as long as he proved to be a solid teammate. Even a few mood swings were part of the "That's Plex'' dismissals that teammates offered as an excuse. Burress would insist he wasn't showing anyone up when for all the world it looked as if he was disgusted whenever Manning didn't deliver the ball in a timely and accurate manner.

"I just kind of took it upon myself,'' Burress said. "I don't want to get down on him. He's my quarterback, he's going to feed me the football. He wants to get me the ball, I know that. I think it's a respect factor from the receiver to the quarterback. I support him, I know when everything goes wrong and everything goes good, I support him the same.

"I come to the sidelines, say 'Hey, look at this, look at that,' I don't get upset any more, because this is one of the things I kind of made an effort not to do. He's my quarterback, I got a tremendous amount of respect for him, I know he's trying to get me the ball the best that he can. It's an 11-man chain, everybody working together to be successful. If he makes a bad throw or I drop one it's pretty much the same thing to each other, all right man, I messed up, let's get 'em next time. We have that respect for one another and whatever happens happens.''

The high-minded words have been accompanied by actions. Burress is noticeably calmer on the field this season, simply running off to the sideline when adversity strikes or, more tellingly, when he's running free but not getting the ball. Using his immense physical ability more aggressively, Burress has concentrated on emerging as a factor in the running game with his downfield blocks, accepting that on many plays on many days, Tiki Barber is the featured offensive star.

"He carries himself a little bit different,'' Barber said. "He's not a real vocal guy but he is a little bit more outspoken, he smiles a little bit more, I think he's just having fun. He's meshed with this group of guys here and it's showing in the way he's playing.''

Manning couldn't have been happy when Burress let everyone in the stadium know his feelings of frustration but as the quarterback, he had so many other problems and concerns. The hardest sell in the Burress evolution was Coughlin, a major proponent in the "Don't say it, do it'' way of going about one's business.

"The fact that he's talked about that is a very positive thing,'' Coughlin said, "and the fact that you observe it in his play is a very positive thing as well. He's not letting himself get frustrated. He's playing hard. He's trying as hard as he can to be a good teammate. He's supportive of his quarterback. These are all things he's basically done since he came into camp this summer. It's a very positive step.''

When properly motivated, Burress is capable of jaw-dropping plays that leave teammates and opponents in awe. His sky-rising, left-handed snatch of Manning's lob over Buccaneers Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber for a touchdown was one of those plays that only a 6-5 leaper with the wingspan of an NBA center could make.

"Plaxico has an amazing ability to do that, when balls are high or out of whack a little bit, he just gets his mitts on them and he pulls 'em down,'' Barber marveled. "It's funny, on the touchdown he scored over my brother, Ronde asked me 'Is Plaxico left-handed?' I said no. He said 'How the hell did he catch that?' ''

Those are the questions the Giants want asked of Burress, who this season is more likely to enjoy reviewing tapes of his work than ever before.