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Giants shouldn't panic despite Burress distraction and loss

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I don't want to say the New York Giants sleepwalked through Sunday's loss, but the only things missing from this one were flannel jammies and glasses of warm buttermilk.

It was a zzzzzzzzzzz effort by a Giants team that knew better. It's like they had a Plaxico Burress hangover but forgot to take enough aspirin the next morning.

The Philadelphia Eagles clanged them like cymbals at band camp. It wasn't even close, despite what the 20-14 score said. This is what happens when you try to ignore the 900-pound Glock in the room.

"Probably our craziest week and probably our worst performance," Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer said. "Put the two together ..."

Put the two together and you get a snoozer in the wind tunnel known as Giants Stadium. It was like watching a documentary on the history of clothes hangers.

Of course, the Eagles, now 7-5-1, loved it. Why wouldn't they? They dominated the Giants in first downs, third-down conversions, and net yards rushing. They beat the best team in the NFC, perhaps the best team in the entire league. And they did it on the Giants' own field.

"I'm kind of glad stuff like this happened," said Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who left the game with an injured knee. "It kind of brings us down a little bit. We realize we can be beat. Start taking things a little more serious."

The Giants ran a grand total of six plays in the third quarter and didn't score their first and only offensive touchdown until there were just 15 seconds left in the game. They began the day as the NFL's most productive rushing team, but couldn't reach triple-figures against the Eagles (88 yards). Eli Manning barely cracked the 100-yard mark in passing (123).

"Yeah, it's pretty startling," Toomer said.

But here's the thing: They'll be fine. Better than fine. Ask yourself this question: Would you want to face them in the playoffs? The answer is no and will remain no unless Jacobs is seriously hurt (he's not; "The wheel's good," he said), Manning regresses to early 2007 Eli (won't happen), or more Giants accidentally shoot themselves in the leg.

That's what Burress did, and the Giants disposed of him like used ankle tape. He's on the non-injured reserve list and has played his last Giants game of the season, perhaps the last Giants game of his career.

Afterward, Giants coach Tom Coughlin blamed the loss to the Eagles directly on the Burress gun incident. And then he started singing show tunes while twirling a parasol.

No, he didn't. You know Coughlin better than that. A reporter couldn't even finish asking the obligatory postgame question about Burress before Coughlin dismissed the premise.

"I said there's no excuses," Coughlin said.

Figures. After all, it's no accident that the Giants locker room features a wall sign that reads, "Talk Is Cheap. Play The Game."

The Giants didn't play the game Sunday. For whatever reason, their offense needed CPR and their defense, which hadn't allowed an opponent's leading rusher more than 26 yards in the previous four games, gave up 131 to the Eagles' Brian Westbrook.

As for the Burress Factor, forget it. The Giants were in full lock-down mode when it came to Burress cause and effect.

"That's your story," said Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, as if the media magically created Burress' firearm moment. "Our story is we didn't execute. All that stuff that comes out, you guys enjoy. To us, it's a dead issue once we get on the field."

And this from Jacobs: "The events of the week didn't have anything to do with what happened."

Weird. That's what Coughlin said, almost word for word, about 20 minutes earlier.
There was no panic in the Giants' locker room. And there shouldn't be. They're 11-2, they still won the NFC East after the Cowboys lost on Sunday and they'll finish with some sort of home-field advantage once the playoffs begin. So deep breaths, everybody.

"This was their Super Bowl, basically," said Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, who had an interesting week, thanks to his involvement in the Burress episode. "But there's nothing been lost by it."

"The sky's not falling," center Shaun O'Hara said.

They're right. The Eagles were desperate. On Dec. 14, when the Giants play in Dallas, the Cowboys will be desperate. The calendar and the standings demand it.

But the Giants will be a different team than the one that lost to the Eagles.
Domenik Hixon isn't likely to drop a gimme touchdown catch like he did against Philly. Manning isn't going to complete less than 50 percent of his pass attempts. The Earth, Wind and Fire combo of Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw aren't going to go sub-100 yards two weeks in a row. Just won't happen.

"We can come out, work tomorrow, clean it up and get ready to go to Dallas," Jacobs said.

The Giants won't make the same mistakes twice. They'll have another seven days to distance themselves from the Burress mess. They'll be coming off this loss. And then there's the whole Cowboys rivalry. That should help refocus their football eyesight.

Yes, they'll miss Burress the wide receiver. Coughlin admitted that much. But they won't miss the controversy. Or the questions. A trip to Dallas, strangely enough, comes at a good time.

Someone asked Pierce if he was glad the past week -- the Burress Week -- was finally done.

"I don't care about any week," he said. "I'll prepare for the Cowboys and get ready."

He said this while wearing a jacket over a silver and red shirt with Barack Obama's image on it. Under the president-elect's face was a single word: "Change."

After what happened here Sunday, the Giants are all for it.

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.