Giants Over Bears, 14-7

You can't typecast these 2000 Giants, can't package them up and fit them into neat little compartments. One week they're a rushing team, unleashing a ground assault that can bury a weaker opponent. The next game they will be a passing team, sending footballs soaring through the air and into enemy end zones. And they can expand their repertoire to become a defensive team, dominating an opposing offense and frustrating quarterbacks and coordinators alike.

But what these Giants are most of all are a winning team.

On Sunday, they out-slugged the Chicago Bears in ancient Soldier Field, 14-7, to improve their record to 3-0 for the first time since 1994. Next week, the Giants can seize control of the NFC East race when they host prohibitive preseason favorite Washington in a Sunday night game.

Each of the Giants' triumphs has been as diverse as it was impressive. In the season-opening victory over Arizona, the "Thunder and Lightning" backfield of Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber rushed for 222 yards and scored three touchdowns.

The following week in Philadelphia, the Giants went to the air as Kerry Collins threw two touchdown passes in a 33-18 victory over the Eagles.

In Chicago the key ingredient was defense - a relentless, suffocating defense that limited the Bears to one touchdown when anything more might have cost the Giants the game. The defense also forced its first turnover in two games when it was needed most; after the Bears took possession at their own 20 with 2:58 left, hoping they could score the tying touchdown. But Mike Barrow stripped the ball from quarterback Cade McNown. Michael Strahan recovered and the hope died.

Three weeks, three very different wins. So who's going to step up next?

"If we have to win by having the beer guys come down and make a play, I'm all for it," left guard Glenn Parker said. "If we have to tell the peanut vendors, `c'mon down, make a play,' I don't care. I just want to keep winning."

Although the defense was superb, the Giants were not at their best against the Bears. Brad Daluiso had two field goal attempts blocked and missed a third try. Tiki Barber opened the fourth period by fumbling at the Chicago 10-yard line. The Giants squandered other opportunities to expand their lead.

"It was driving me crazy late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. I was thinking that it should be 23-7," coach Jim Fassel said. "But you have to get that out of your mind."

Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of the victory was that all the Giants heeded that advice. They were able to overcome the hardship they encountered at several points in the game and persevered until they triumphed.

"In the past, this is a game we would have let slip through our hands," said Barber, who rushed for a game-high 86 yards, caught a team-best six passes and scored the winning touchdown on a nifty 3-yard run in the third period. "But our maturity and the way guys have stayed together have allowed us to fight through the adversity and keep winning."

If we have learned anything in the first three weeks of the season it's that this Giants team is vastly different than the 1999 edition. That squad received too much attention for the discord between offense and defense. Usually, it was the latter blaming the former for lack of production.

But on the current Giants there is a bond between the two units, a belief that if one side is having an off day, the other will pick up the slack. Hence, they have three victories, each achieved in its own unique style.

"We keep fighting as a team," linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "It's no offense and defense. They call the running backs Thunder and Lightning. That's how we have to be on offense and defense. We have to be a 1-2 punch with each other. We're playing more as a unit now."

Defensive end Michael Strahan said, "The offense won the last two games. When we went out and got that fumble we said, `we got to win one, it's time for us to win one.' That was our focus. We were able to do it. Everybody when we needed it made a big play. Right now we're well-balanced."

For the third week in a row, the Giants scored first. They took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in eight plays, with the touchdown coming on a gorgeous 34-yard pass from Kerry Collins to rookie wideout Ron Dixon. Cornerback Thomas Smith was in position to make a play, but Collins' pass floated over his outstretched hand to Dixon, who made an outstanding catch in the back of the end zone.

It was the first time the Giants scored a touchdown on their opening possession in 15 games, since they did it on Oct. 3, 1999 against Philadelphia (on a Kent Graham to Ike Hilliard 9-yard pass).

"Ron is so explosive, you feel you have to have a couple of touches for him," Collins said. "He has good speed, he goes up and gets the ball well and he makes people miss. In a circumstance like that you just want to give a guy a chance. He did a good job of making a play."

The Giants had two chances to score in the second period. But Daluiso hooked a 34-yard field goal attempt after holder Brad Maynard had trouble handling the snap and his 41-yard try was blocked when Mike Wells pushed a Giants player into the path of the ball.

After that miscue Chicago took possession at its own 26 with 3:16 left and the Giants defense suffered its only lapse of the day. The Bears marched 74 yards in 12 plays, only two of them third downs, the last a 2-yard pass from McNown to Eddie Kennison, who was alone on the left side of the end zone. The score, coming with 14 seconds left in the period, sent the teams into their halftime locker rooms knotted at 7-7.

The Giants broke the deadlock in the third period, thanks, appropriately, to contributions from both the defense and the offense. Keith Hamilton's 8-yard sack of McNown pinned the Bears back at their own 7-yard line. One play later, they punted from there and Brent Bartholomew's kick was downed at the Chicago 43.

From there the Giants ran the ball on six consecutive plays, the longest was Barber's 19-yard burst through the left side. Barber scored the touchdown on what he called a halfback reverse --- he went in motion to the left, then came back to the right, took and pitchout from Collins, stepped past Parker's terrific block and scored for a 14-7 lead.

Given a lead to protect, the defense became impenetrable. Chicago had five possessions after Barber's touchdown and never advanced further than its own 39-yard line. The big play down the stretch was the Barrow/Strahan doubleteam on McNown.

After Collins was sacked by Troy Wilson and Maynard's punt sailed into the end zone, the Bears gained the ball at their 20 with 2:58 left. The announced crowd of 66,944 was howling eager to see the winless Bears triumph in their home opener. But on first down, McNown was flushed from the pocket, stumbled, and was hit by Barrow. The ball popped loose and Strahan fell on it.

"I didn't know whether it was a fumble or not," Strahan said. "I saw the ball come out and I wanted to make it look like I recovered the ball and was excited so the referee would give us the benefit of the doubt. Looking at the replay it was a fumble. If I had known that I might have picked it up and high-stepped it into the end zone."

The Giants failed to take advantage of the takeaway because Daluiso's 31-yard field goal attempt was blocked by M. Brown. Chicago got the ball on its own 21 with 1:08 remaining and quickly picked up eight yards on first down. But that's as far as the Bears got. When McNown's fourth-down pass to A. Mayes was wide of its target, the Giants' third consecutive victory was secure.

"In this league," Barber said, "you have to have a great offense and a great defense to win."

Through three games in this young season, the Giants have benefited from both.

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