EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - A couple of Giants admitted what was painfully clear to everyone.

The rest were, at best, deluded.

The Giants yesterday played without Pro Bowl wideout Plaxico Burress, who shot himself in the leg with his Glock handgun in a Manhattan nightclub Nov. 29. He was lost for the season, was suspended by the team and faces criminal weapons charges after his public perp walk last Monday.

Linebacker Antonio Pierce, the team's fulcrum and leader, might also face charges stemming from his involvement in the absurd events of 9 days ago. He was interviewed Friday by New York police.

True, the Giants had won in Washington less than 2 days after the Gloxico episode. That made them 11-1, tied for the best record in football.

But that was before the fan had really been hit. Come yesterday, the Giants were covered in it.

Add to the Burress mess a litany of injuries that include their best players on either side of the ball, as well as a huge game Sunday night in Dallas, and, well, they were ripe for the 20-14 upset the Eagles laid on them.

Generally, though, the Giants denied the obvious like Dennis Farina had them under a naked bulb in one room and Sam Waterston watching behind one-way glass.

A couple came clean.

"Oh, man. I don't know," said chronically honest receiver Amani Toomer. "It's probably our craziest week. It's probably our worst performance. You can put two and two together."

Apparently, Toomer and the press are the only ones familiar with the New Math.

Asked about the hectic week that was, Pierce snapped, "I don't care about any week . . . We're not worrying about [the shooting]."

Pierce looked harried, if not worried, when he got burned for a 40-yard touchdown catch by Brian Westbrook.

"I don't think it affected us," said quarterback Eli Manning, 7-for-21 before the Eagles folded up shop late in the fourth quarter and gave away a touchdown.

He threw two touchdown passes, one of them to Burress, when the Giants beat the Birds and scored 36 points a month ago.

"There is no excuse," insisted coach Tom Coughlin.

Maybe, maybe not. There might be other reasons the Giants looked like garbage - namely, injuries, and a lack of focus.

"This is the time of the season guys are getting banged up, the season's starting to wear on you a little bit," said apparent realist Kevin Boss, the No. 1 tight end who was shut down for the first time in five games.

Now the Cowboys are waiting, with a chance to creep close to the top seed in the NFC. The Giants clinched the division when Dallas lost to Pittsburgh.

"We've got to get a win in Dallas, make sure of that bye week," Boss said, looking ahead - as maybe several Giants did on Sunday? "I hope not. I don't know. We knew we had a tough NFC opponent with Philly this week, so, hopefully, we didn't look ahead."

Their trip to Texas won't be easy without their, um, top guns blazing.

Defensive tackle Fred Robbins returned after missing last week's game with a shoulder injury. Eagles running back Brian Westbrook gained 131 yards, mostly up the middle, after gaining 26 on Nov. 9.

Already hobbled by a knee injury, featured back Brandon Jacobs aggravated it and left the game for good in the middle of the third quarter. He finished with 52 of the Giants' 88 rushing yards, which was about half of their league-best average, inflated by the 219 yards they gained against the Eagles on Nov. 9.

"Of course you're relieved," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "He's a horse."

He's a trough-half-full horse.

"I'm kind of glad this stuff happens," said Jacobs, who said his knee injury wasn't a big deal. "It brings you down a little bit. It's a humbling experience. If there was anybody who needed to be humbled."

Being humbled wasn't the problem.

Being realistic was.

If he hadn't shot himself in the thigh, Burress still might not have played against the Eagles. He was scheduled to miss last week's game in Washington, anyway, due to a balky hamstring.

However, had he played yesterday, even at less than full strength, Burress surely would have seen some double coverage, which at least might have helped the Giants' running game. Yesterday, the Eagles never double-covered anybody.

"You're going to miss a player of that magnitude any time," Coughlin said.


"The events of the week didn't have anything to do with what happened on the field," Jacobs said. "If Plax would've played, the same thing would've happened."

There's nothing like a unified voice on a cohesive team. *