Still have doubts about the New York Giants? They don't, not after earning the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs.
The Giants got the home-field advantage for the entire postseason and a first-round bye by coming from behind in the fourth quarter for the second straight week in a 28-25 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.
The wild win capped a remarkable late season run that saw New York (12-4) win its last five games after coach Jim Fassel put his job on the line a little more than a month ago by guaranteeing that his team would make the playoffs.
``Nobody ever thought we would be here,'' defensive tackle Keith Hamilton said. ``Now we beat a couple of teams and we still don't deserve to be here. We're just going to keep playing hard and they can doubt us all the way to Tampa.''
Doubting the Giants is easy. They don't have a potent offense, the defense is susceptible to the pass and special teams is always an adventure.
Bottom line though, the Giants' five-game winning streak makes them the hottest team in the conference heading into the playoffs.
``I hate to repeat myself but it seems like we have gotten better every week,'' Giants owner Wellington Mara said. ``All you can do is beat the teams the league schedules you to play, and they found out they can do that.''
When asked if this team was as good as his Super Bowl champions in 1986 and '90, Mara smiled.
``Well, I don't know,'' he said. ``They say they have exceeded my expectations, but not my hopes. They are very confident right now.''
The Giants ended the Jaguars' first non-winning season since 1995 by making big play after big play in the fourth quarter, disappointing Minnesota and New Orleans, who were hoping a loss would give them the top seed.
But Kerry Collins (22-for-39, 321 yards) threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 5 yards to Ike Hilliard and 54 yards to Amani Toomer, Jason Sehorn recovered two onside kicks, returning the first 38 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with 1:51 to play.
``I was telling someone this is like when you write to Santa around Christmas time and then you get everything you asked for,'' linebacker Mike Barrow said. ``For the past month, coach said everything we wanted and we got it, the playoffs, the NFC East title, a first-round bye and the top seed.''
The Giants even got lucky in the closing minutes when halfback Tiki Barber came away with only a sprained right toe that looked far worse after he was tackled on a run.
Barber, who tallied the first touchdown on a 3-yard run in the first quarter, finished with 78 yards rushing, giving him his first 1,000-yard (1,006) season.
Mark Brunell (23-for-41, 262 yards) threw touchdown passes of 5 yards to Kyle Brady and 12 to Alvis Whitted. Brady's TD and a two-point conversion to him cut the Giants' lead to 21-18 with 1:56 to play, but Sehorn stunned the Jaguars by returning the onside kick for a touchdown.
Jaguars halfback Fred Taylor had his nine-game streak of rushing for at least 100 yards snapped. He gained 52 yards on 13 carries before leaving the game with a hip pointer early in the second half.
``I think they'll be great, they have a real good team,'' said Taylor, who angered the Giants defense earlier this week by saying it wasn't as talented as some AFC teams.
The Jaguars, who finished 7-9 for their first losing season since their inaugural year in 1995, seemed bent on spoiling the Giants' late run. They overcame a 7-0 deficit on a 44-yard touchdown run by Taylor in the second quarter and then took the lead early in the third quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Mike Hollis.
Defensive end Tony Brackens set up the score by jumping up and intercepting Collins at the line of scrimmage on the first play of the second half.
It took the Giants a while to overcome the play. They had a chance late in the third quarter when they drove from their own 1 to the Jacksonville 29 but Hilliard dropped a pass at the 5 on fourth-and-6.
After the Giants held the Jags, Collins directed the 75-yard drive, igniting it with a 42-yard pass to Toomer. Then Hilliard atoned for his mistake. He kept the drive alive with a full-extension catch of a 28-yard pass at the Jags' 5 and scored two plays later on a rollout by Collins.
Collins added a 54-yard TD pass to Amani Toomer, who had eight receptions for 193 yards, with 3:05 to play for a 21-10 lead, but that only started the wild finish.
``This feels great,'' Toomer said. ``There are so many critics out there who told us how we weren't going to win the division or be the top seed. Now what can they say? We still have a lot to prove in the playoffs and we're going in good fashion.''