Two teams that began the season with lofty expectations but are going in different directions meet for the first time since 2004 on Monday night in Cleveland.
Apparently still riding the momentum from its improbable Super Bowl victory last season, New York (4-0) is off to its best start since winning 10 in a row to open the 1990 season. One of two undefeated teams in the NFL, the Giants have won eight straight and have gone from almost missing the postseason to being regarded as perhaps the league’s best team in the same calendar year.
“For us, we couldn’t care either way, good or bad, we’re not trying to get respect here in September going into early October,” linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “For us, it’s about getting respect from late December to early January and early February.”
Cleveland (1-3) comes off a bye week looking for a second straight victory as it tries to bounce back from an 0-3 start - one that few observers expected after last season. The Browns went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs, but they can now look to the ’07 Giants for inspiration. New York started 0-2 before winning six in a row and never looked back en route to the championship.
“It inspires the entire league,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Everyone talks about it. The way they started and the way they finished gives everybody hope.”
Hope won’t be all Cleveland needs for its first win over New York since 1985, as the Giants have won five in a row over the Browns. The Giants, whose most recent victory in the series was 27-10 on Sept. 26, 2004, haven’t lost in Cleveland since 1973. New York has won eight straight and 10 of 11 road meetings overall.
New York totaled a season-high 523 yards in a 44-6 victory over Seattle on Sunday. Eli Manning went 19-for-25 for 267 yards with two touchdowns, Brandon Jacobs rushed for 136 yards with two scores and receivers Domenik Hixon and Sinorice Moss combined for three touchdowns in the absence of Plaxico Burress.
Burress was suspended one game for missing a team meeting. He’ll return for this contest.
“Things like that happen and I put it behind me and keep on moving forward and get back to doing what I do - catching footballs and scoring touchdowns - and get back to work,” said Burress, the team leader with 18 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown.
The Giants’ lead the NFL in total offense (431.0 yards per game), rushing yards (181.3), yards per carry (5.8), first downs (24.2) and points (31.7). Defensively, New York is second in points allowed per game (12.3), third in total yards (236.0) and second in passing yards allowed (154.0).
“Our objective is to be as good as we can be and that is what we always talk about with our team,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It is the idea of challenging ourselves to be the very, very best that we can be individually and as a team. And that we all do it to the best of our ability - not let the other guys down.”
Though it’s been some time since the Giants and Browns met in the regular season, the teams played a preseason contest Aug. 18 during which New York scored 30 unanswered points in the first half. It was a game that left a lasting impression on Cleveland, which had five starters suffer injuries in the contest.
“They embarrassed us,” Cleveland linebacker Andra Davis said. “So that’s going to give us a little extra fire.
“It could definitely turn the season around to beat the Super Bowl champs and do it on national television. We’ll be ready to go.”
Cleveland, 5-9 after byes, used the off week to get healthy. Linebacker Willie McGinest returns after missing two games with a groin injury, while receiver Donte’ Stallworth (quadriceps) is expected to make his season debut after signing a seven-year, $35 million free-agent contract.
Cleveland, though, may be without tight end Kellen Winslow, who was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness on Friday. Winslow had been feeling ill for several days and the team sent him to the doctor Thursday for further tests and evaluation.
Winslow caught 82 passes and made the Pro Bowl last season. He has 19 catches and one touchdown this year.
After scoring 26 points through its first three contests, Cleveland won 20-12 at Cincinnati on Sept. 28. Derek Anderson, who suffered a concussion against the Giants in August, threw a 4-yard TD pass to Braylon Edwards for the receiver’s first touchdown of the season. Edwards set a franchise record with 16 TD receptions in 2007.
The Browns are last in the NFL with 210.8 total yards per game, and second-to-last with 11.5 points a contest.
Cleveland won 35-33 on Dec. 1, 1985, for its most recent victory over the Giants.