The New York Giants hope their return to the site of their stunning Super Bowl victory allows them to take another step toward a second straight championship.
New York (9-1) defeated heavily favored New England 17-14 on Feb. 3 in Phoenix for its third Super Bowl title. The victory apparently didn’t dampen the Giants’ desire for another championship run, as they’ve emerged as the NFC’s dominant team this season.
New York continued to roll last Sunday, knocking off Baltimore 30-10 for its fifth straight victory. The Giants’ NFL-best rushing attack piled up 207 yards against a Ravens run defense that came in yielding a league-low 65.4 yards per game.
“We were confident that we would be able to run the ball,” guard Chris Snee said. “We knew it was going to be tough and they were going to make some plays and stop some runs but we were confident that if we stuck with it we would be able to break some and that is what happened.”
Ahmad Bradshaw (96 yards, nine carries) and Brandon Jacobs (73 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries) led the way for the Giants, who are averaging 172.7 yards on the ground. New York’s depth could be tested this week, though, as Jacobs suffered a knee injury that might keep him out Sunday.
Jacobs, with 879 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season, didn’t practice Wednesday.
“We expect that he will be able to go tomorrow, but as you know these things are day to day,” said coach Tom Coughlin, whose team leads the NFC East by three games. “He feels good, and I hope in another day he has made the progress necessary to allow that he would practice tomorrow.”
If Jacobs can’t go, Bradshaw and veteran Derrick Ward will see their roles expanded. Ward ran 11 times for 41 yards last week and has 531 yards on the season.
The Giants’ defense also put together a dominant effort last week, limiting Baltimore to 275 total yards and 154 passing yards. New York’s secondary, however, will face a considerably more daunting task this week.
Led by Warner, the Cardinals (7-3) are averaging 305.8 passing yards - second in the league. The former Giants quarterback, who played 10 games with New York in 2004, has utilized big receivers Larry Fitzgerald (939 yards) and Anquan Boldin (792) in a powerful air attack that has carried the franchise to the verge of its first division title since 1975.
The Cardinals need to beat New York, have San Francisco lose at Dallas and Seattle tie or lose at Washington to win the division crown for the first time since the team was based in St. Louis. Arizona last made the playoffs in 1998.
“We’re in good position,” said coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose team leads the weak NFC West by four games, “but it’s not a done deal yet.”
New York hopes its powerful pass rush will make throwing tough for Warner, keeping pressure off its secondary as it tries to handle Fitzgerald, Boldin and fellow receiver Steve Breaston.
That secondary looked good last week, as cornerback Aaron Ross earned NFC defensive player of the week honors with two interceptions - one returned 50 yards for a touchdown - and six solo tackles.
“They have a great quarterback and a lot of great guys at the skill positions so it is going to be all hands on deck, and anything that we can possibly do to stay close to their skill positions and know where they are at all times is going to be a plus for us,” Ross’ fellow starting cornerback Corey Webster said of the Cardinals.
While the Giants are bound to be hit with some memories of the stirring victory over the Patriots, they’ll need to focus on the task at hand against an Arizona team that’s 10-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium under Whisenhunt.
The Cardinals return home after defeating Seattle 26-20 last week. Warner completed 32 of 44 passes for 395 yards - his franchise-record fourth straight 300-yard game - to give Arizona its third straight win.
“You know, it’s fun. That’s all I want is another chance to compete for a championship,” said the 37-year-old Warner, whose streak of 300-yard games is tied for the third-longest in NFL history. “We’re back in the mix again. Obviously, there’s still a long way to go, but to be 10 games in and be in the mix is fun. We haven’t been there in a while. I haven’t been there in a while.”
If Warner wants to help the Cardinals do their part to secure the division title, he’ll have to manage the Giants’ pass rush and hope Arizona’s defense can slow down New York. The Cardinals are giving up only 89.8 yards per game on the ground, but the Giants had little trouble against the more formidable Ravens rush defense last week.
New York’s Eli Manning, whose 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left lifted the Giants past the Patriots in the Super Bowl, will again look to take advantage of the perfect indoor passing conditions at University of Phoenix Stadium. Arizona is giving up 210.0 passing yards a contest.
The Giants have won five of the last seven meetings with the Cardinals, avoiding a third straight loss in the series with a 42-19 home win in the last meeting in 2005.
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