EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There actually was a touch of optimism around the Giants on Wednesday, with several of the injured players returning to practice for Sunday’s crucial game against Dallas.

The upbeat mood didn’t last long, however.

Before the ink had dried on the positive injury report, Michael Strahan had launched one of his patented anti-media rants after Plaxico Burress had called out his teammate for calling him out on the radio. All this came about a half-hour after coach Tom Coughlin said he was trying to “pull everybody together and encourage, if you will.”

The two players stood about 5 yards from each other in the pre-practice warm-ups for the players who are not involved with special teams. But there was no indication they had been pulled together, and they were not encouraging each other.

Strahan had ended his rant with a shot at the “negative” media, which has not been able to find the silver lining in a three-game losing streak capped by one of the biggest el-foldos in NFL history.

“Don’t try to take a comment and divide teammates in a way that disrupts this team,” Strahan had said in his non-response to Burress’ response. “We don’t have that division here. If you want to come here with a negative, you’re coming to the wrong guy because I’m not a negative guy. I don’t kill my teammates.”

Yet during his weekly paid spot on Joe Benigno’s WFAN-AM show Monday morning, Strahan talked about the play on which Burress allowed Tennessee cornerback Pacman Jones to make the game-turning interception.

“It’s a shame because Plaxico is a great player and a good guy to be around,” Strahan said. “But at the same time you’re judged by your actions on the field and you can’t give up. You can’t quit, because you’re not quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on us.

“We work too hard all together to have that type of stuff happen, and Plaxico is one of the guys who works hard. I don’t quite understand what his motivation is, or what his lack of motivation is in those type of situations. I’m pretty sure I’m going to try to see what it is, and try to see if I can talk to him about it.”

His tone was not as venomous as his words. But apparently Strahan did not talk – at least personally – to the wide receiver about the play. In fact, Burress said he hadn’t heard of Strahan’s comments until advised of them Wednesday in the locker room.

“I don’t really get into the aspect of criticizing teammates. I don’t like that. I’ve always stayed in my place,” Burress said. “I know what my motivation is, but if that’s the way he feels, it’s sad.

“If I do things bad, I don’t go on the TV and radio and criticize my teammates.”

Strahan normally does not grace the media with his presence on Wednesdays. But he heard about the line of questioning to Burress, and he returned to his locker. He personally called out the reporter from ESPN who had asked Burress about the comments.

“I want to see your face when you ask the question because I know you are going to ask it in a way that is more of a division and more of a negative way than it was,” he said.

“I have spoken to Plaxico. I talked to Plaxico in a team meeting as well,” Strahan said before branching off into areas ranging far from his radio comments.

“Do you think one play by Plaxico lost us the game? No. Do you think an interception by Eli (Manning) lost us the game? No. Do you think a tackle by (Mathias) Kiwanuka lost us the game? No,” he said. “Is that what I expressed to the team? Yes.

“But the fact of the matter is we are 6-5, we’ve lost three games in a row. What do you want us to do? Put our heads down and go into a corner? We don’t do that. We’re men. We come back, practice hard, we prepare to play and win.”

Later in the day, Strahan said he thought the incident was just another attempt by the media to create problems he says don’t exist in the Giants’ locker room.

“It doesn’t sound great, no,” he admitted after rereading his comments.

“But is it an issue where the team is breaking up? No. That’s a joke. I also said Eli didn’t play well. But nobody went to Eli.

“This is my friend. Of all the guys I didn’t think I’d get along with when he signed as a free agent, we have become good friends… My thing is that you try to take two guys who get along on the field and off and make them hate each other. That’s not the case. But we’ll live with it.”

Tara Sullivan contributed to this report.

(c) 2006, North Jersey Media Group Inc.

Visit The Record Online at http://www.northjersey.com/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-29-06 2159EST

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