You know what it is in the NFL when one of the best offensive players shoots himself in a nightclub and his teammate and team’s defensive leader is implicated with getting rid of the gun?
That’s what a shooting has come to in the NFL - a distraction.
Yes, if there were a code word to describe the atmosphere at FedEx Field surrounding Sunday’s 23-7 victory by the New York Giants over the Washington Redskins, it was distraction.
That is the word reporters repeatedly used after the game to try to ask the Giants about Plaxico Burress, the troubled wide receiver for New York who, according to reports, shot himself in the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan on Friday night. It is also the word used for the implication that teammate linebacker Antonio Pierce helped Burress dispose of the weapon, which Burress reportedly did not have a permit for.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin was asked how his team manages to deal with the various distractions that have plagued it over the last few years, even during last year’s Super Bowl season.
“They quickly get right back to the reason we are here,” Coughlin said. “We all are upset about what happened to Plaxico, and hopefully he is going to be fine and so on and so forth. That is our first concern. Once that was taken care of, we knew that he was OK, the guys got back to focusing on the reason we were here.”
Quarterback Eli Manning was asked about overcoming this distraction: “I think this team has been through a lot, and I think this team has a great understanding of what our goal is and what this team is about,” he said. “Everybody is concerned about Plaxico and his health and the circumstances he was in, but I don’t think it affected our mind-set going into this game and being mentally and physically ready. I thought we were prepared, and I knew we would come out and play hard today.”
Defensive end Justin Tuck echoed the party line - block out the distraction and express concern for Burress’ health. Anything else would, of course, be a distraction.
“Once you get on the football field, I’m not going to say it is easy to block out, but you have other distractions you have to worry about,” Tuck said. “First thing you worry about is health. We found out he is doing pretty well, but other than that we don’t know enough about it to comment on it.”
Oh yes, the other distractions on the football field. It is questionable whether the Redskins rose up to the level of distraction Sunday. The Giants, now sporting an 11-1 record for the first time in franchise history, ran out 404 yards of offense against Washington and had the ball for 11 more minutes. They appeared more bored by the Redskins than distracted.
“The Giants had the right defense for the plays we dialed up,” said Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who was 23-for-38 for just 232 yards and one interception. “Santana [Moss] and I were talking on the side saying, ‘Can we get a break?’”
There were no shortages of distractions on either side of the field, though. Of all days for the Burress mess to unfold, it happened the day the Redskins honored the memory of safety Sean Taylor, one year after he had been shot and killed in an attempted robbery at his home.
With the rain falling on a half-filled stadium 15 minutes before game time, the ceremony seemed to deflate the atmosphere, not energize it. Then the Giants erased whatever momentum the Redskins might have been able to muster out of the Sean Taylor tribute and Ring of Fame induction by marching down the field 71 yards the first time they got the ball and taking a 7-0 lead on a 40-yard scoring pass from Manning to Amani Toomer.
“We knew this Washington team was going to be emotional and ready to play this game with the tribute they had to Sean Taylor,” Manning said. “So I thought it was important for us to jump out and have a good first drive, which we did do, and kind of get momentum going our way.”
Pierce, the former Redskins linebacker who along with Burress could face serious legal repercussions and a league suspension if he did dispose of Burress’ gun, said he was not going to answer any questions about the incident. So reporters repeatedly asked him instead about the “distraction,” to which at one point Pierce replied, “The distraction gave us the win 23-7.”
The fact is that this wasn’t a distraction - it was a tragedy. It was a tragedy one year ago when Sean Taylor was shot to death with a gun and a tragedy that Plaxico Burress put his life and the future of his teammate at risk with a gun.
The game was the distraction.