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Short-handed Giants strike early, smother Bucs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- On a cold, blustery afternoon, the
New York Giants displayed the depth of their defense.

Despite playing without three injured defensive starters and
losing another early, the Giants held Tampa Bay to 174 total yards
and set up a score with a turnover deep in Buccaneers' territory in
a 17-3 victory Sunday.

"You know what? I'm not surprised because the backups, the guys
who came in, are like starters," Pro Bowl defense end Michael
Strahan said after the Giants (5-2) won their fourth straight game.
"They are players."

During the winning streak which started after a bye week, the
defense has allowed 42 points, and hasn't given up a touchdown in
the last two home games.

The Bucs (2-5) were 2-for-16 on third-down chances and 0-for-3
on fourth-down opportunities in seeing their two-game winning
streak snapped. They also fumbled six times, losing one important
one.

What made this performance so impressive was who the Giants were
missing.

All-Pro defensive end Osi Umenyiora (hip), strongside linebacker
LaVar Arrington (season-ending Achilles' injury) and starting
cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) were all out. Weakside
linebacker Brandon Short went down early with a quadriceps injury.

Rookie Mathias Kiwanuka, veterans Carlos Emmons and R.W.
McQuarters, and rookie Gerris Wilkinson replaced them,
respectively, and coordinator Tim Lewis' group didn't miss a beat
in the game played with winds gusting to more than 40 mph.

Kiwanuka, a first-round draft pick, had his first sack and six
tackles. Wilkinson had three sacks, a pass defended and a forced
fumble. Emmons had three tackles and McQuarters one.

"We're still hungry," said defensive tackle Fred Robbins,
whose fumble recovery set up Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard, second-quarter
touchdown run that gave New York a 14-0 lead.

"We know we've got a good team," Robbins said. "We knew we
had a good team when we were 1-2. We just had to put the pieces
together. We know there is still more work to be done, but we are
getting where we want to be."

Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress provided the offense for the
early lead. They combined on a 7-yard, first-quarter touchdown pass
and a 25-yard wind-blown catch that led to Jacobs' TD run.

Jay Feely added a 31-yard field goal with 3:43 to play.

Matt Bryant, who kicked a winning 62-yard field goal last
weekend against Philadelphia, had a 43-yarder for the Bucs.

Tampa Bay's few other scoring chances were hurt by dropped
passes by Joey Galloway on nice throws by Bruce Gradkowski, a late
third-quarter fumble by receiver Michael Clayton on a fourth-down
play, and a failure to get a first down on two cracks from the
Giants 32 early in the fourth quarter while needing only a yard.

"Obviously, the weather was a factor," Bucs coach Jon Gruden
said. "It was hard for both teams. It was hard pregame warmup, it
was hard throughout the game. Not only was it hard to throw it, it
was hard to catch it, it was hard to snap it, it was hard to pitch
it. It was hard, period."

The conditions made the so-called "Barber Bowl," the possible
final matchup between twins Ronde Barber of the Bucs and Tiki Barber of the Giants, seem almost insignificant.

The twins had their moments, but they played a secondary role to
the wind and the Giants defense, which held Tampa Bay without a
first down on their first five offensive possessions.

"If it's the last time we play, good for him because he got
back in the win column," Ronde Barber said of Tiki, who's planning
to retire after this season. "He's still down 3-2."

The Bucs' inability to move and Jeff Feagles' punting gave New
York great field position, and the Giants cashed in on their second
possession. Taking over at their own 47, the Giants went 53 yards
in eight plays -- capped by Burress' left-handed, one-hand catch
over Ronde Barber.

Robbins set up the second touchdown, recovering a muffed
pitchout by Cadillac Williams at the Bucs 28.

On first down, a pump fake by Manning allowed Burress to get
behind the Bucs secondary and make a 25-yard catch on a pass that
got caught up in the wind. On a calm day, it would have been an
easy touchdown.

"Anytime you can't run the ball in this league, the majority of
the time you are going to lose," said Williams after the Bucs were
limited to 40 yards rushing.

Tiki Barber finished with 68 yards on 26 carries. Manning was
16 of 31 for 154, and Burress had seven catches for 86 yards as New
York held the ball for more than 35 minutes.

Gradkowski finished 20 of 48 for 139 yards.

Game notes
It was so windy that every time referee Jeff Triplette
turned on his microphone it sounded as if he was standing next to a
jet engine. ... Giants RB Derrick Ward was active for the first
time and made the tackle on the opening kickoff. ... Strahan
remained tied with Lawrence Taylor for the Giants' career record
with 132½ sacks. ... The Giants honored their 1956 championship
team at halftime. ... Linebacker Shelton Quarles led the Bucs with
13 tackles.