- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2005

In the wake of the deaths of Giants owners Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch this fall, New York coach Tom Coughlin has his players believing that they’re a team that will be remembered.

“Coach Coughlin always tells us that this is a team of record,” said ninth-year running back Tiki Barber. “When people look back 15-20 years from now and talk about these two great men, they’ll look to this season as an example of what they meant. I take that very seriously. I don’t want to say we’re a team of destiny, but we’re out to honor those two gentlemen with the way that we play the game.”

Heading into tomorrow’s showdown with NFC East rival Washington, the Giants are certainly doing their best to honor the memories of Mara and Tisch. After going 10-22 the previous two seasons, the Giants are 6-2 since Mara died on Oct. 25, 4-1 since Tisch followed suit on Nov. 15. At 10-4, New York is on the verge of its first division title since its surprising Super Bowl season of 2000.

The Giants are fifth in scoring, sixth in rushing and 11th in scoring defense and rushing defense. The only other NFL teams in the top 12 in those four categories are conference leaders Indianapolis (13-1) and Seattle (12-2). The Giants haven’t played the Colts and would’ve beaten the Seahawks on Nov. 27 in Seattle if kicker Jay Feely had made one of his three field goal tries in the last minute of regulation and in overtime.

“They have a very good defense,” Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell said. “They have a great pass rush with the two ends [Pro Bowl picks Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora]. They have a solid scheme. They’re well coached. And they’re playing their best football right now.”

Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams is equally impressed with New York’s offense, which revolves around Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey, both Pro Bowl players, and second-year quarterback Eli Manning.

“The Giants are playing very well,” Williams said. “Tiki has matured. He’s made some changes in his game [since Coughlin’s arrival in 2004]. … Each game I see Eli play, he gets more comfortable.”

Allowing players to get comfortable isn’t the abrasive Coughlin’s style. He fines them if they’re not five minutes early to team meetings. Coats and ties are mandatory when traveling. His grueling 2004 offseason prompted complaints by the NFL Players Association. But no one denies that the 59-year-old former Bill Parcells assistant can coach.

In his second season at Boston College, Coughlin turned the Eagles from losers into 8-3-1 winners. In Jacksonville, Coughlin prodded an expansion team to the AFC Championship game in its second season and into the playoffs the three following years.

The Giants lost eight of their last nine games after a 5-2 start in his New York debut last season, but of course, Coughlin never wavered.

“I don’t believe it’s coincidence,” Coughlin said of his ability to produce winners so quickly. “It’s an entire team working together, focusing on priorities. I’m very proud of the fact that these young men have rallied around our program and have done a great job.”

After recovering from the disappointment in Seattle to outlast NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia, New York took on AFC contender Kansas City last week minus its starting offensive tackles and only two proven linebackers and won 27-17 as Barber ran for a franchise record 220 yards and three scores and the defense forced three turnovers.

“To be able to perform the way we did is a credit to this team and its perseverance,” Coughlin said.

Barber, one of five players left from the 2000 NFC champions, likes this year’s team but said it isn’t that special … yet.

“When I look back at our Super Bowl season, we didn’t have nearly the talent [we have now], but we had a cohesion about us,” Barber said. “Everyone was playing for one another. We went through stretches where we just felt that we couldn’t lose. This team has more talent than that team, but we’re not quite there yet.”

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