- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

CHANDLER, Ariz. — There is a difference between Plaxico Burress’ prediction and Anthony Smith’s guarantee.

Burress actually can back up the talk.

Earlier this season, Smith, a reserve forced to start at safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, promised a victory over the New England Patriots. Smith was abused in coverage during a 34-13 loss.

Earlier this week, Burress, the receiver who has been the New York Giants’ best player in the postseason, not only projected an upset win over New England in Super Bowl XLII but even provided the score — 23-17, his jersey number as a prep basketball player in Virginia Beach and his current jersey number with the Giants.

He hasn’t backed off the statements. He wants the heat. He loves the pressure. And the way he sees it, he has nothing to lose — the Giants are 12-point underdogs.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Burress said. “I’m a confident player. You can’t take the field without being confident.”

Although coach Tom Coughlin semi-bristled when told of Burress’ prediction (he’s not calling it a guarantee), his teammates have supported the stand.

“I know the way that it was said, so I don’t care,” Michael Strahan said. “If you’re asked, do you think you’re going to win the game, what am I supposed to say? No, we’re going to lose. No, I think we’re going to win the game just like the Patriots think they’re going to win. No one comes here thinking that you’re not going to be victorious.”

Said Osi Umenyiora: “I can’t give you a score, but I don’t totally disagree with what he said. That’s just positive thinking and having a positive mentality. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, nobody expected us to win anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.”

What is expected to happen is Burress being involved in the Giants’ offense. For New York to pull a shocker and ruin New England’s date with history, quarterback Eli Manning will have to find Burress downfield.

In the playoffs, Burress leads the Giants with 16 catches for 194 yards. Against Packers cornerback Al Harris in the NFC Championship game, Burress was open the entire game and caught 11 passes for 151 yards.

On Sunday, Burress is likely to face cornerback Asante Samuel, who has five interceptions in his last seven postseason games. Harris tried to be physical with Burress at the line of scrimmage — and failed miserably. Samuel plays off receivers, so Burress will have to run precise routes to get open.

“He’s a big guy, and Eli is putting the ball right on point to him,” Samuel said. “It’s not a surprise he’s doing so well. Whatever the coach’s game plan is, whatever the challenge is, I’m up for it. If the game plan is for me to cover him the whole game, I’m up for that, too.”

Samuel has to be wary of both the quick slant Manning throws to Burress in stride and the throw to the outside shoulder on which Burress uses his 6-foot-5 frame to go get the football.

But he’s not just a possession-type receiver who runs to the first-down marker. In the regular season, Burress had the Giants’ five longest pass plays and eight that went for more than 30 yards. The rest of the Giants had four such plays.

The performance is even more impressive considering Burress rarely practiced for much of the season because of a torn ankle ligament sustained in Week 2 against Green Bay. He didn’t practice, but he did play in every game, catching 70 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.

It wasn’t until the week of the regular-season finale against New England that Burress was able to practice.

“It just says I want to win,” he said. “My coach [Coughlin] has enough trust in me that I could go out and be successful when I was 70-75 percent. That says a lot about him. I think he knows me as a player and knows the type of competitor that I am.”

Growing up in Hampton Roads, Burress developed that self-assuredness from his grandmother and mother, both of whom are deceased.

“My grandmother was sort of the rock,” he said. “Everybody leaned on her. She was a quiet woman, but she was confident and walked with a swagger. I think my mom took on the same personality.

“I learned from them that a quiet confidence is one of the best personality traits to have. We’re all human, we make decisions and we make bad choices. But that’s what makes you who you are. I’m very happy with who I am.”

A decision that worked out for Burress eventually was leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2003 season for a six-year, $25 million contract. He had reached the AFC title game twice with the Steelers but lost to New England both times. Two years ago, Burress watched Pittsburgh defeat Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Sunday night, it will be his former Steelers teammates watching Burress.

“In life, all you can ask for is an opportunity,” Burress said. “Now we have an opportunity to go on the biggest stage in the NFL. I’m happy to be a part of it, but even more so, I’m happy to be a part of it with this group of guys.”

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