ALBANY, N.Y. The New York Giants are playing defense, which is what they did very well to shock the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl nearly six months ago.
Only this defense is designed to motivate them to overcome the preseason lack of recognition they perceive they've received since that 17-14 win.
It's on the Web. It's on ESPN, the NFL Network and in most newspapers, including those in their own city. The message is this: The Giants are a slightly better-than-average team that got hot late last season, managed to get to the Super Bowl and then handed New England its only loss of the season because the Patriots were overconfident.
New England treats that game as if it never happened.
"I think we do have a chip on our shoulder," said defensive end Justin Tuck. "You read the papers; we have no chance even in the NFC East.
"I don't mind going under the radar. If we're not the team to beat or we're not expected to be the best team it doesn't bother me. This team knows what we accomplished last year and what we did. Last year we didn't always play our best football until the playoffs. Now we have to work on being more consistent and play on a high level week in and week out."
The Patriots opened camp last week sounding exactly as they did for 18 games last year the message, as always, imparted by Bill Belichick and parroted by even the most articulate of players: "We never look behind. Only look ahead."
Said Belichick after the first practice of training camp: "The goal right now is to correct the mistakes we made this morning, talk about the stuff we are going to install this afternoon and go out there and work on that. We are going to try to have another good practice and string them together. Our focus right now is very short term."
Belichickian to the core and, presumably, one of the reasons the Patriots were able to run off those 18 straight wins. No team has ever utilized the "we play 'em one at a time" cliche the way the Patriots have.
"I think part of what helps you move forward is to say 'OK, we did the best we could do and it didn't turn out the way we would have liked but sometimes that happens,"' Tom Brady said after last week's first practice. "We are moving forward with just as much energy and excitement as we always have. Hopefully we can go out there and put ourselves in the best position possible every week."
That's easy for the Patriots, who are in the relatively week AFC East; play only four teams that had winning records last year; and have been in four Super Bowls this decade, losing only to the Giants.
The Giants have the rings but not the pedigree.
They also are coming off a regular season in which they finished 10-6; play in an NFC East that has put three teams into the playoffs in each of the last two seasons; and are regarded by many as an up-and-down team that got hot at the right time.
It started with a 38-35 loss to the Patriots in the final regular season game, an otherwise meaningless game that gave the Giants confidence that they could stay with the best. Then they won three straight on the road in Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay before their Super Bowl upset.
Still, the Giants have been downgraded in the offseason to a consensus "ranking" of sixth or so and are almost unanimously picked to finish behind Dallas in their own division and maybe even behind Philadelphia and Washington. Jerry Jones, the never-shy Dallas owner and his coach, Wade Phillips, have publicly labeled their 21-17 playoff loss to the Giants as a fluke.
"They only gained 57 yards in the second half," Jones said recently.
Jones chose to ignore the fact that after Dallas controlled the ball for almost the entire second quarter to take a 14-7 lead, Eli Manning drove the Giants down the field for a TD in 46 seconds to tie it at intermission.
The Giants are using that kind of comment to motivate themselves, especially after Michael Strahan's retirement and the trade of Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans. Shockey is regarded by the "experts" as a loss even though he missed the playoffs and Super Bowl with a broken leg one reason he wanted to be dealt was the credit given his replacement, rookie Kevin Boss. And they seem pretty confident.
"Can we harness what we did in the playoffs and extend it throughout the whole season?" asks wide receiver Amani Toomer, the senior Giant with Strahan's retirement. "We know we have the pieces in place and we know we are missing a few of them, but I think the majority of them are still here. I think that if we can find a way to bring back, get our mojo back, so to speak, and start another run."
The Patriots ignore all chatter, including all the noise about "Spygate" that went on long after the season ended.
"We start by taking leadership from our head coach and the example that he sets," Brady said. "I don't think he is too concerned with what anybody did last year, including us. He is concerned with what we did today and what we do tomorrow. That is where is all starts. I don't think what any team has done in the history of the NFL will have any effect on what we do this year. We are going to do the best we can do. We are going to try and do the best we can do everyday in practice. Hopefully that leads to a lot of wins."
For the Patriots, it almost surely will.
They love being Super Bowl champions. They love being the underdog just as much.