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Eli takes care of business versus Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Whatever you think about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's style or game, you have to give him this: The guy knows who he is.

He didn't come out on "Monday Night Football," before a national TV audience, and try to play some statement game against the Chicago Bears to back up that firestorm he started on Tuesday when he said, sure, he believes he's in the same elite class of quarterbacks as Tom Brady.

And anyone thinking Manning is going to meaningfully change course about his coming reunion on Saturday against ex-teammate Plaxico Burress when the Jets and Giants play their annual preseason game is probably wasting their time, too -- even if the game Burress played Sunday night for the Jets, his first NFL game action since leaving prison, lit up New Meadowlands Stadium more than anything any one Giant did 24 hours later.

That's not to say the Giants were bad against the Bears. Just the opposite was true about their 41-13 romp. Manning and the entire first-team offense took a nice step forward after a lousy showing against the Carolina Panthers in their preseason opener a week ago. The best takeaway from this game was the Giants were back to doing the things they usually do well -- which was no sure thing after this offseason, given all the new faces they've plugged in at spots such as left tackle and center and tight end.

(The worst takeaway, of course, is that they've likely lost cornerback Terrell Thomas for the season.)

Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs gashed out some nice gains behind the Giants' retooled offensive line. Manning managed the passing attack well, rolling away from trouble and deftly sliding around in the pocket to buy time -- and he called a nice audible for a handoff that Jacobs turned into a sweet-looking two-cutback touchdown run of 18 yards. The Giants' pass rush got after Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and the special teams played well, even blocking a punt. If there was a nitpick to be made, it was that Manning found wideout Mario Manningham with a lot more success than he did Hakeem Nicks or No. 3 receiver Victor Cruz before the first-team offense was done for the night a couple series before halftime.

But let's face it: Neither Monday's improved performance nor Manning's presentable 8-for-16, 78-yard night is likely to resonate this week as much as the drumbeat talk that starts now about Burress playing his first game against a Giants team that didn't want him as much as the loud-talking, more swashbuckling Jets franchise did.

"I'm sure something will be made of it this week," Manning said. "But it's nothing for us to get worried about. ... Just go out and play."

Manning, of course, failed to lobby for Burress to return to the Giants this summer -- a fact he'll be asked to revisit again this week in detail. What was his reasoning again for why he didn't bother to leave a meeting room and say hello to Burress though he knew Burress was in the building to give the Giants the first shot at signing him since his release from prison? Didn't he feel any special kinship with the guy who helped him gain a foothold in Super Bowl lore by being on the other end of their game-winning touchdown play against the New England Patriots?

Does Manning regret not campaigning for Burress now, after seeing how terrifically Burress played while hauling in three catches for 66 yards Sunday night? Did Manning send along any congratulations in the 24 hours since Burress' big night -- a text message, voicemail, anything like that?

"Nah, not after the game, but I've talked to him -- I've talked to him in the last few months," Manning said. He admitted he saw highlights of Burress' catches, and he nodded when asked if Burress' diving, over-the-shoulder, 26-yard touchdown reception in the left corner of the end zone against Cincinnati looked familiar.

"I saw the catch -- yeah, a little fade route and laying out [for the ball] -- that's what he can do," Manning said. "I'm happy for him. ... I'm happy he's back in the mix and feeling good and playing well."

Manning's lack of campaigning for Burress aside, the Giants were willing to pay Burress more than the Jets overall (a reported $4 million in salary and incentives). But Burress chose the Jets' lower offer of $3.017 million because it was all guaranteed.

As a result, Manning finds himself in a far different place with his young corps of receivers than Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez does across town. While Sanchez can choose between Burress and Santonio Holmes -- two been-there/done-that veterans who've each caught a dramatic game-winning touchdown pass in the waning seconds of a Super Bowl -- Manning spoke on Monday night of having "fun" trying to get his young receivers up to speed and "on the same page" with him fast enough to break the Giants' two-year playoff drought.

"Those guys are all working, they're all great competitors, so it's fun to be at practice with them," Manning said. "They want to do the right thing. They want to learn. They're all smart and they get things, so we're coaching them up. ... This is going to be a fun film to watch, correct what we got wrong and see what we did well."

But whatever the Giants have seen on film isn't going to be the theme of the week. Jets versus Giants, Plaxico versus Eli, Plaxico versus the Giants' battered secondary will be. And both teams know it.

Immediately after the Jets' win on Sunday night, Burress was already trying to head off any talk that facing the Giants this weekend will be any sort of grudge match for him. We'll see. Manning's role in the storyline -- not campaigning for Burress -- won't spark the national interest that his remarks about Brady did. But if it does, he'll handle this week the same as last week.

He said what he said and he is who he is. But regrets about how things have turned out? There were none that he'd admit to on Monday night as he headed for the door.

"When something goes wildfire," he said, "that's something you can't get worried about, so ..."

And so?

"So I don't get worried about it," Manning said. "Just play."