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Defending Super Bowl champion Giants expect higher focus this season

By Art Stapleton, The Record (Hackensack N.J.) –

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning now has two Super Bowl rings and a pair of MVP awards from the big game as well.

The Giants’ quarterback remains a realist, however, and a perfect finish did not erase his team’s imperfections from last season, no matter how history will remember it.

“Obviously the season ended up well, but if you look at our regular season, we still lost seven games,” Manning said after the Giants hit the field and participated in their first of 10 organized team activities Wednesday. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. It wasn’t an easy regular season where we were going out there and playing great every game.”

In taking Manning’s lead, the Giants promise they will be focused on getting better.

Just how much better remains to be seen, although Justin Tuck was clear last week with his assessment of Big Blue and its chances of building a championship dynasty.

Tom Coughlin did not back down from Tuck’s challenge, either, echoing Manning’s assertion that the Giants have plenty on which to improve and build going forward.

“I would say this: I think we must raise the bar for our own performance, whether it be in the meetings, on the practice field, on the game field,” Coughlin said. “That’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see everyone come in here … and try to raise the level of how we do everything so that it is championship level.”

Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz insisted Wednesday that neither is satisfied despite emerging two of the NFL’s biggest breakout stars in the Giants’ run to Super Bowl XLVI, which resulted in the franchise’s fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The final celebration of that victory will come June 8 when the Giants are scheduled to visit the White House and meet with President Obama.

Other than that, the Giants are back to the business of football; and that continued with their return to the practice field Wednesday.

“We had a great ending, but we didn’t have a perfect season. Nobody was perfect,” said Pierre-Paul, who has set his sights on eventually making a run at Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5. “There’s a lot we can do better. Me personally, every day I’m learning something new. I’m going to keep on learning and trying to get better.

“We were Super Bowl champions, but we know we can be even better.”

Asked if he truly believes the Giants can build a modern-ay NFL dynasty, Tuck said: “Why can’t you? Why wouldn’t I feel that way? I don’t need to be playing the game if I’m not thinking about winning a championship every year. I feel very confident in this team’s talents and this coaching staff. I believe we have that shot.

‘Me saying it – is that going to make it happen? Absolutely not. But we do have a shot at it.”

COUGHLIN HUMBLED: Tom Coughlin said he was “deeply moved” Wednesday by receiving the Outstanding Civilian Service Award, the third-highest public service honor the U.S. Army can bestow upon a civilian.

The award was presented in Arlington, Va., to Coughlin and four other recipients, including Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Paterson native Bob Delaney, by Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, an avid Giants fan and a close friend of Coughlin’s.

“I’m very humbled in receiving this honor, and I look forward to spending an evening with General Odierno and the other people being honored,” Coughlin said. “It’s an honor to be in that company and to realize the historical significance of where we will be once this takes place (Wednesday) … and what this represents in terms of our support for the military, our men and women who serve our country.”

BRIEFS: Four players were not present: DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Chris Canty (knee), TE Jake Ballard (knee) and TE Adrien Robinson, who is finishing up school at the University of Cincinnati. … Having returned from consecutive ACL surgeries, WR Domenik Hixon called it “devastating” news that CB Brian Witherspoon tore his ACL for the second straight season during Wednesday’s OTA practice session. CB Antwaun Molden also was injured, and he will receive further evaluation to determine the severity of his hamstring issue.

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