EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The one person who should have been paying extremely close attention to the New York Giants' 44-6 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday is the same man who should have been playing in that contest.
That's because the Giants proved how good they could be without wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who was finishing a two-week suspension for unspecified rules violations. They were cool, efficient and as explosive as they've been during their 4-0 start. They also appeared to be a team that could operate just fine without Burress, their most important offensive player during their drive to the Super Bowl title.
The message Burress should have gleaned from this blowout is obvious: He needs to get his act together once he returns to work. There's no question that he's still a valuable member of a Giants team hoping to defend its Super Bowl title. But New York also has plenty of other playmakers at its disposal. Maybe that was hard to understand when this season began. Now it's something that makes it easier to justify the Giants as the NFL's best team at the moment.
The numbers from this game at Giants Stadium were downright scary. The Giants amassed 342 of their 523 total yards before halftime. They also scored on their first six possessions and didn't commit a single turnover. "We have plenty of other weapons on this team," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who completed 19 of 25 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.
"Just because a guy is out, it doesn't mean we're going to change our philosophy. We're still going to run our same plays and the guys did a good job of stepping up when their names were called."
The Giants were committed to an aggressive approach from the start. The absence of Burress -- who last season led New York with 70 receptions and currently has a team-high 18 catches -- seemed to indicate New York might use more caution in its passing game. Instead, Manning threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Domenik Hixon on New York's fourth play of the game. From that point on, Manning played as if he couldn't wait to get everybody else involved in the fun.
Hixon continued to show the promise he displayed in training camp, catching four passes for 102 yards. Backup wide receiver Sinorice Moss caught two touchdown passes of his own while Amani Toomer added four receptions for 64 yards. Add that production to the Giants' running game (Brandon Jacobs ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns behind a dominant offensive line), and it's easy to see why the Giants were so eager to play this game. New York produced its most complete effort of the season.
What was most impressive about the contest was the ease with which the Giants controlled the game's tempo. Their offense found a rhythm that kept the Giants in manageable third-down situations, and rarely did they have to force the action. For a team that usually struggles after bye weeks, the Giants appeared to be in postseason form. (The Giants are 4-15 after byes, 2-2 under coach Tom Coughlin.) As Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said, "That was what you call a good, old-fashioned you-know-what. I believe we're a better football team than that, but give the Giants credit. They really took it to us today."
The key question now is how New York maintains that rhythm when Burress returns to the team on Monday. Published reports claim he had a litany of team-rules violations before this suspension, but his teammates say he's not the problem some might suspect. "He's a hard guy to replace," Hixon said. "He does everything for this team, from giving us an emotional lift to having a presence in the locker room. It will be good to have him back."
True, but will Burress understand what it means to be back on this team? If there's one thing he should realize about these current Giants, it's that Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese aren't going to tolerate knuckleheaded behavior. They traded star tight end Jeremy Shockey earlier this offseason, basically as soon as they realized he was becoming too toxic to keep around. Now Burress has crossed the line once too often for a team that doesn't want to jeopardize its chemistry.
Though Coughlin didn't want to draw too much attention to how his team performed without Burress -- "We are just talking about today and winning the game, a bunch of guys playing as a team," Coughlin said -- the safe bet is that he got his message across to his star player. Burress has lost money from this foolishness and he also put himself in a position where his teammates couldn't count on him. It's one thing for him to blow off the lost wages. But the possibility that he might continue to behave detrimentally just doesn't make sense.
The Giants now have given him ample evidence of how they can operate when he's not available. They can look to other players on their depth chart and they can still attack with the same level of aggressiveness. But they also can be even better once Burress finds his way back into the lineup. The important thing is that his return also includes the right amount of attitude adjustment.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.