As if Giants Stadium needed to be filled with any added emotion on Sunday afternoon, the defending NFC champions held the New Orleans Saints out of the end zone in the final seconds for a 21-13 victory.
A 3 1/2-hour penalty-filled affair ended in predictable fashion -- on a penalty -- after Willie Jackson caught what at first appeared to be a touchdown as time expired but moments later walked off the field dejected when a flag for pass interference hit the ground, sealing the win for New York (2-1).
The game was the first at the Meadowlands -- the New York Jets host the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night -- since terrorist attacks leveled the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11.
"This game was not for the faint of heart," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "This was so emotional because we've had to wait a long time (for our home opener). To see the people out there and our American flag up was really moving."
For nearly 30 years, the World Trade Center was visible from the Giants Stadium parking lot and the upper reaches of the arena, which prior to Sunday's contest hosted a moving tribute to the victims of the attacks on the aftermath's heroes -- the New York Police and Fire Departments.
"This was a big quality win," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "We had to have it. They (the Saints) are a physical and talented team, but we're from here and we had to win this for everyone who came out today. This is one of the most satisfying victories I've ever had as a Giant."
Perhaps spurred by emotion and taking advantage of the Saints' rustiness -- New Orleans was playing for the first time in 21 days -- the Giants raced to a 14-3 haltime lead and held a 21-10 advantage midway through the fourth quarter after former Saint Kerry Collins hit Joe Jurevicius with a 46-yard touchdown.
"This was more emotional today than last week," said Collins. "It seems like forever since we've been home, but I think that the shock has worn off a little having played last week. The jolt is gone, but it's good to see everyone out there and that remains a great source of pride for me."
However, the Saints (1-1) moved hastily for a 30-yard field goal by John Carney with 4 1/2 minutes remaining and then quickly halted New York's ensuing possession after four plays, giving them a chance to tie with a TD and two-point conversion.
With Aaron Brooks calmy directing the late drive, New Orleans moved to the Giants 9 with 15 seconds left before Brooks threw an incomplete pass on 1st-and-goal.
Brooks looked for Joe Horn on the next two downs, but New York defensive backs Sam Garnes and Will Peterson both made good plays, knocking down the ball with outstretched hands to keep the Saints out of the end zone.
On fourth down, Brooks was forced to his right and, under pressure, lofted a pass into the middle of the end zone that Jackson caught after pushing off to make the play. Immediately, flags dropped and the Giants had a victory.
Despite the victory, New York suffered a pair of injuries on offense. Tiki Barber, who rushed for 21 yards and a 14-yard first-quarter touchdown, left with a hamstring injury early in the second half, and shortly thereafter offensive lineman Lomas Brown departed because of a concussion.
In Barber's absence, Ron Dayne had a big day, compiling a career-best 111 yards on 19 yards. His six-yard TD run opened the scoring just over seven minutes into the second quarter.
"It looks like he's operating faster this year," Collins said. "He's kind of deceiving. He looks slow initially, but when it comes time to hit the hole he just explodes."
"I was just out there to run. I wasn't to confident with my pass plays," Dayne said. "I just kind of stayed in there and blocked. This year I feel more like a complete player."
The Giants' running game picked up Collins, who completed just half of his 18 pass attempts for 135 yards. Jurevicius totaled 60 yards on a pair of receptions.
"Joe did a good job of splitting the safeties (on his touchdown)," Collins added. "He was really hauling the middle. I just put it out there for him and he went and pulled it in."
After a scoreless third quarter, Brooks hit Jackson for a 32-yard touchdown midway through the fourth to bring the Saints within 14-10. But they were unable to get into the end zone the rest of the afternoon.
Brooks was 28-of-54 for 291 yards with an interception, while Jackson caught eight passes for 105 yards. Ricky Williams rushed 16 times for 53 yards.
The teams combined for 25 penalties totaling over 200 yards.
"We knew this crew calls a lot of penalties because we scout the officials," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "They called 22 in their last game. We just didn't do a good job of cleaning up our area."