The Giants have become the NFL's cardiac kids, a team that's going to make the defibrillator mandatory sideline equipment. They are a group of optimists who believed they could make the playoffs even when they were two games under .500 in December. And they have cast themselves in a football version of Mission Impossible, able to pull victory out of an apparent hopeless situation not once, but twice.
They did it again Sunday. Faced with a four-point deficit and needing to travel 96 yards in less than three minutes for a touchdown to win a game they absolutely had to have, the Giants incredibly did just that. Kerry Collins completed seven of 10 passes for every one of those 96 yards, including the 7-yard game-winning touchdown to Ike Hilliard with only 20 seconds remaining to give the Giants a dramatic 27-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Last week, Collins led the Giants 70 yards in the waning moments and hit Amani Toomer for the game-winning touchdown in a 17-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Perhaps the Giants should use their two-minute offense more often.
The Giants, all but left for dead when they lost two weeks ago at Dallas, improved to 7-7 and kept their NFC East title and wild card playoff hopes alive. They are two games behind the Eagles, whom they meet on Sunday in Philadelphia. If they win their last two games and the Eagles lose their last two, the Giants will win the division.
Of course, if we they keep winning like this, they might win an Emmy for best performance in a dramatic series. The Giants season has become must-see TV.
"I am very proud of this team. It has no quit," coach Jim Fassel said. "That was pretty evident in the last two weeks, with us on the edge as far as we could get and then to win the game at the end. As long as we have a chance, we're going to fight. We're going to fight wherever we go. I firmly believe in this team. They played hard. They haven't lost their composure. We kept fighting and we kept playing."
Seattle lost this fight and fell to 7-7.
The Giants had many standout performers. Ron Dayne scored on the longest touchdown run of his career and Michael Strahan reached the end zone after recovering a fumble. Kicker Morten Andersen scored nine points. Safety Shaun Williams had 12 tackles and linebacker Mike Barrow had 11 and forced the fumble that Strahan scored on.
But no one stepped up higher than Collins and his receivers on that memorable last drive. Earlier in the fourth period, Seattle's Fabien Bownes had downed a punt at the 1-yard line. Collins, leaned into the huddle and said, "Okay, we're going 99 (yards)." But they went only nine, and had to punt. Moments later, Seattle punted again and Bownes was there to down the ball - at the four.
Collins, however, had not lost any confidence.
"I said, 'Okay, we're going 96,'" he said. "It looked a little bit shorter at 96."
This time he was correct. The drive started with a 28-yard pass to Amani Toomer.
"Getting that big play right off the bat was huge," Collins said. "It got us out of there and got us some room to operate and allowed us to kind of breathe a little bit."
Collins, who completed 30 of 47 passes for 338 yards, was at his best when the pressure was at its greatest. He completed his first five passes on the final drive, including an 11-yarder to Toomer (eight receptions for 124 yards), an 18-yarder to Joe Jurevicius and 7-yard passes to Jurevicius and Hilliard.
That gave the Giants a first down on the Seattle 25-yard line with 48 seconds left. Collins threw to Hilliard, who couldn't hold onto the ball inside the five. Collins went right back to him for an 18-yard gain to the seven. After a timeout, Collins threw two incompletions, setting up a third-and-goal with 24 seconds left.
With the Giants' season on the line, Collins fired a strike to Hilliard in the center of the end zone for the winning touchdown.
"We spread everybody out and basically they had combination coverage on Amani and on Joe, and it left Ike one-on-one," Collins said. "That route is a `get open' route. Ike just does whatever he can to get open … he can go back, he can cut across, he can do whatever he wants and the guy was playing him so he couldn't get across his face. And I knew Ike was going to put his foot in the ground and come on out. It was simultaneous. When I threw the ball, he put his foot in the ground, came out and there it was. It's not the first time we've done that, we've done that a number of times before. That kind of chemistry, that kind of rapport, that's hard to find."
For Hilliard (seven catches for 105 yards) it was a special moment, particularly after dropping what might have been a touchdown moments earlier.
"You have to put the last play behind you," Hilliard said. "I told my coach (receivers coach Jimmy Robinson) after the game that I owed him one because I tried to protect myself more so than making the play. Kerry made a great throw, it was a cover three and I had the same read and he put it where it needed to be and I didn't make the play. "(On the touchdown) I had leverage on the guy who was playing me, along with the fact that he had his back to Kerry and I had a hard time getting inside and it was an isolated route for me in cover four. What happened was they doubled both the outside guys and left me one-on-one and since I couldn't get across, he stayed with me and we were patient."
The Giants are starting to get the same winning feeling they had last year when they soared all the way to the NFC Championship.
"I don't know what it is but when the game is on the line that's when we come out and shine," Toomer said. "That's the sign of a championship team. We proved we're a championship team last year and we're going to prove it again this year. We didn't care about anything but scoring. I didn't care who was making the play or who was catching the ball; we just needed to score because we needed to give this team life."
"I'm proud of our guys," Collins said. " It's tough to listen to what everybody says about you, if you listen to it, and it's even tougher to overcome that and I'm proud of the way that our guys overcome those kind of things when everybody keeps focus."
The Giants pulled to within 24-20 with 12:41 left in the fourth period on Andersen's second field goal of the game, a 33-yarder. The Giants moved from their own 36 to the Seattle 15, but missed an opportunity to keep the drive alive when Tiki Barber was brought down by linebacker Levon Kirkland on a screen pass to the right side. The tackle left the Giants two yards shy of a first down, and Fassel elected to move the Giants closer on the scoreboard instead of going for it on fourth down.
After being tied at halftime, the Giants fell into a hole immediately to start the second half. Ron Dixon fumbled the second-half kickoff after being hit by Marcus Bell. The ball was recovered by Paul Miranda at the Giants 30-yard line. Earlier, Dixon had fielded a kickoff that he should have let sail out of bounds.
"I was very angry," Fassel said. "It was not a smart play. The wind was blowing that way. That ball was going to carry out of bounds. We talk about it all the time with Tiki on punt return and on kickoff returns. It was a cross breeze. That ball was going out of bounds. The breeze was blowing and we were going to get the ball on the 40. We tell them all the time to let it go out of bounds. When he fumbled the ball, I took him out."
After the turnover, Seattle needed just four plays to take the lead. The Seahawks got the touchdown when Hasselbeck flipped a screen pass to the left side to Shaun Alexander, who ran untouched into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.
Each team scored on a long touchdown run, a defensive fumble recovery and a field goal to create a 17-17 halftime deadlock.
Andersen tied the score with a 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in the second period. Kerry Joseph's 21-yard kickoff return and Kevin Lewis' unnecessary roughness penalty gave Seattle a final shot at the end zone. But Jason Sehorn, who later sprained his left ankle, knocked down Matt Hasselbeck's pass as time expired.
Seattle had taken a 17-14 lead with 3:24 left in the half when defensive tackle John Randle fell on Collins' fumble in the end zone. On a first down from the Giants 6-yard line, Collins dropped back into the end zone, was stripped of the ball by Antonio Cochran and fumbled. Randle fell on the ball near the back of the end zone for the score.
The Giants had previously taken a 14-10 lead on their own defensive touchdown. On second-and-12 from the Seahawks 25, Matt Hasselbeck was sacked by Barrow, who chopped the ball out of the quarterback's hand. Strahan picked up the ball and ran 13 yards for the score.
Did the NFL sack leader consider flipping the ball to a faster teammate?
"No way," Strahan said. "I'm not flipping. I wanted all the glory for myself. You know Micheal Barrow made a great play. That was truly just Micheal Barrow being determined and just going all-out in order to make a play. And once he stripped it, I said here's an opportunity for us to put some points on the board. At that point we were a little stagnant. We needed something to happen for us. After I picked it up, I saw the fullback and I knew he was going to go low. So my only thing was to try to make enough steps to try and get in the end zone. And I was able to shake him off."
Was diving on it a possibility?
"No, that wasn't an option," Strahan said. "You have got to realize what is a smart play. Sometimes it is a smart play to dive on it. Other times the smart play is to pick it up and make something happen. This was one of those times where you needed to pick it up and make something happen. And fortunately I didn't drop it. I got into the end zone with it and we needed it."
Early in the second period, the Seahawks had taken a 10-7 lead on Rian Lindell's 20-yard field goal. The score was set up by Hasselbeck's 42-yard pass up the right sideline to rookie Koren Robinson. The Giants almost prevented the field goal when Sehorn just missed catching Hasselbeck's third-down pass in the end zone. The Giants challenged the ruling that Sehorn did not have possession, but after reviewing the tape, referee Ron Winter upheld the call on the field.
The teams had traded touchdown runs by their heralded second-year running backs in the opening period.
Seattle struck first, on Alexander's 29-yard run off left tackle with 5:43 left in the quarter. Alexander received big blocks from Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Mack Strong while scoring his NFL-leading 13th rushing touchdown. Alexander finished with 96 yards rushing.
The Giants countered on their next possession on a 31-yard run by Dayne, whom the Giants selected in the 2000 draft ahead of Alexander. The play capped a five-play, 76-yard drive that featured a 26-yard pass from Collins to Hilliard.
Dayne's 31-yard score was the Giants' longest touchdown run of the season. The previous long was Tiki Barber's 14-yard scoring run against New Orleans on Sept. 30. The Giants had 14 other runs between 15 and 55 yards long, but none of them went for scores.
The only negative note for the Giants was Sehorn's injury. The veteran cornerback hobbled off the field with 10:50 to play. An x-ray revealed no broken bones, but his prognosis was uncertain.
"I've never sprained an ankle before," said Sehorn, who has played with a sore knee all season. "I'll have to wake up and see how it feels. That was the last place on my body that was okay."
At least the rest of the team is healthy. With two games remaining, the Giants are in the hunt. And with their will to win, they may yet pull a division title out of this season.