EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Despite being the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants have managed to fly under the radar most of the season.
In the preseason, they were overshadowed in their own area by Tim Tebow and the quarterback hoopla with the New York Jets.
A nationally televised season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys turned off more people. And a nationally televised Sunday night setback to the Philadelphia Eagles that dropped them to 0-2 in the NFC East left many wondering whether this team would even be a playoff team.
Well, guess again.
The Giants (4-2) are not only back, the target on their backs may be even bigger after a dominating 26-3 win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers, a team that many felt were the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC.
At the least, the Giants made an enormous statement to every other NFL contender: Don't ignore them.
"There's no doubt," linebacker Michael Boley said. "I think we feel that once we put everything together, offense, defense and special teams; that's something that is going to be tough for teams to beat us. We kind of put everything together yesterday and we showed that we're a team to be reckoned with."
What made the Giants win so impressive was the nature of it. Many felt the Giants could give the 49ers a game, but the one-sided win was totally unexpected.
Jim Harbaugh's team was coming off two lopsided wins, a 34-0 trouncing of the Jets and a 45-3 decision over Buffalo in a contest where Alex Smith and company gained a franchise record 621 yards.
The Giants, whose defense had been inconsistent all season, held the 49ers to a field goal and intercepted Smith three times. Eli Manning and the offense didn't turn the ball over and Ahmad Bradshaw gained 116 of New York's 149 yards on the ground and also reached the end zone.
"For some reason, every time we do something, someone finds a way to say that we could have done it better," receiver Domenik Hixon said. "At the end of the day, we're out there to win ball games, I guess, not to steal a headline."
Coupled with the Eagles' loss at home to Detroit, the Giants will head into Sunday's game against the Redskins (3-3) with a one-game lead in the division.
Don't expect a letdown though.
Washington is coming off a 38-26 win over Minnesota and the Giants are bound to be wary of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who ran for 138 yards and a touchdown and threw for another 182 yards and another score.
If that isn't enough, the Giants remember, the Redskins beat them twice last season without RG3.
"I try not to remember,' Boley said of last year's games. "We didn't play well as a team, neither offense or defense. We didn't really play well either of those games."
Boley said this week will be an opportunity to get going again, something the Giants did late last season in winning their final six games en route to capturing their second Super Bowl in five seasons.
"We know we're 4-2 right now, but for us to come in, starting with this week, and get a division win is a step closer for us to put ourselves in position to get to the postseason," he said.
Coach Tom Coughlin wasn't sure whether the win would make opponents put a bigger target on the Giants' back or not. After all, off a Super Bowl win, they already had one there.
"I don't know how it can be any bigger," Coughlin said. "You just know you are going to get everybody's best and that's all there is to it, and you look forward to it. It creates greater challenges — week in and week out — to be at your best."
Offensive tackle David Diehl returned to action against the 49ers as a sixth lineman in some formations and Coughlin felt he played well. He was not sure whether he would be put back into the starting lineup with Will Beatty and Sean Locklear playing well at the tackle spots.
The Giants, who saw their defensive line wake up and produce six sacks, might get even more help this week. Veteran defensive tackle Chris Canty is ready to return to practice after spending the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list.
New York does not have to activate Canty this weekend. But the Giants do have the option to do so if the training staff feels he is ready.
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