Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 12/13/12
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Last January New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck called the Atlanta Falcons' offensive linemen "dirtbags." Earlier this season, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith "gets away with murder." Last week, Giants punter Steve Weatherford suggested that suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton might be communicating with his players, saying, "Of course he will get his message to them somehow." Sense a pattern? Giants quarterback Eli Manning doesn't. "I'm unaware of anything that was said by Weatherford," he told Atlanta media members in a conference call on Wednesday, even though the story caused a bit of buzz. "Vaguely, I recall something being said in the playoffs last year about that, but I don't think we've said anything inappropriate or anything we have to worry about right now." Yes, right now, the Giants do have other things to worry about. The defending Super Bowl champions are 8-5 and hanging on to the NFC East lead by the slimmest of margins over Dallas and red-hot Washington, both of which are 7-6. The Giants also have to concern themselves with Sunday's opponent at the Georgia Dome: the Falcons, who are tied for the league's best record at 11-2, even if the Giants defeated the Falcons 24-2 last January in the NFC Wildcard round. "They have my respect," Manning said of the Falcons, who might lack that quantity among national commentariat. The Falcons, desperate for their first taste of playoff success in head coach Mike Smith's five seasons, already have assured themselves of a playoff berth by clinching the NFC South while the Giants have assured themselves of nothing and could still fail to qualify for the postseason. It's paradoxical, then, that such a no-nonsense coach like New York's Tom Coughlin, winner of two Super Bowls, would have to deal with such nonsense coming from his team. Not surprisingly, Coughlin was in no mood to countenance it on Wednesday. From hundreds of miles away over the speakerphone, he cut short a question on the topic. "I don't have any idea about that and I'm not commenting on anything like that," he said. "I don't even -- I don't recall any of that and I really won't have a comment on that." Falcons players were mostly amused at the memory of last year's accusations by Tuck and the Giants' other adventures in media squabbles. Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo said he had forgotten about last January's episode. But it's worth noting that in the week preceding the game, reporters flew in from New York and peppered him with questions for at least 10 minutes on the topic, engaging in a sort of verbal jousting from which Clabo, a communications major at Wake Forest, will not shy away. "I have to answer questions about a lot of stupid stuff," Clabo said. "That was just another one of those situations. It didn't have any influence on the outcome of the game. We didn't not block well because you guys asked us questions all week." Ah, yes, not blocking well. The Falcons, who ranked seventh during the regular season in scoring, did not score on offense in that game, as the Falcons could not convert a number of critical short-yardage situations. Is it gamesmanship, then, in which the Giants are engaging? Here's more from that Tuck quote of last January. "You got to protect yourself and, hopefully, the referees have 2020 vision this week," he said. Falcons defensive end John Abraham said the squeaky wheel gets the grease. He said he tried the same tactics last week in the Falcons' 30-20 loss to Carolina with referee Ed Hochuli. "I think it works for anybody," Abraham said. "You say something, obviously, they're going to start looking at it." The difference was that Abraham's comments were said on the field and not amplified via the megaphone of the country's largest media market, which, coincidentally, doubles as the home of the NFL's headquarters. "They already got a lot of attention, they're in New York," Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. "What more attention do they want? I don't know what it is, but I guess it must be that type of strategy or whatever they're doing." Babineaux said he thinks the Giants might use such tactics to draw more of the officials' attention to the gritty play among the grunts. "Really, nobody sees those things that go on in a game," he said. "Everybody sees the catches, the runs. Nobody really sees too many of the blocks that happen, that goes on between the trenches." Regardless, most of the Falcons were dubious about the value of such talk. Abraham, whose 10 sacks tie him for eighth in the league, said he will "let my talent talk." Running back Michael Turner pointed out that the Falcons annually rank among the NFL's least-penalized teams. Clabo also said he thinks such comments fall on deaf ears when it comes to the officials. "I think most officials are from a different planet," he said, "so I don't think that really matters to them." Whether the episodes are simply an example of loose lips, represent a purposeful strategy or don't amount to a pattern at all is up for debate. What's somewhat surprising is that it has happened on the watch of Coughlin, who was famously caught by cameras wanting to control details as small as the length of players' shorts during camp. On Wednesday, Coughlin generally addressed today's media climate in which players can feel more comfortable in speaking freely. Specifically, he was asked about Giants defensive players who talked publicly about their need to play better. "The access to the media and everything we do is photographed or written down or captured by microphone," he said, "and so many of the things that we try to prevent or try to encourage our guys not to get involved in, you know, sometimes things are said which you don't appreciate it, but the fact of the matter is these guys have their hearts in the right place. "You know, trying to identify what perhaps are some of the things that will prevent us from being a better football team -- I don't have any problem with that as long as it's shared internally and as long as it has a very good intention. I don't like any finger-pointing, I don't like any of that and I don't' believe that took place." Now, if we only knew how he felt about what his team says about the other team.
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