An eastward wind pushed at Kerry Collins's back during today's pregame coin toss, which Seattle won. The Giants had the choice of direction, and Collins jabbed a finger toward the east end zone in Giants Stadium. "We'll stay this way," Collins said in a moment that would have been completely forgettable except that, some two and a half hours later, Giants place-kicker Matt Bryant felt the same wind pushing him in the back as he faced the goal posts, 47 yards distant.
Bryant had hit a 60-yarder in this direction while warming up before the game, and as the Giants drove down the field in the fourth quarter, mired in a 6-6 tie, Bryant hoped he would get a chance to decide the game.
"Fifty-three is going to win this thing," Bryant told others on the sideline, referring to the yardage. "Fifty-three."
But it turned out to be only 47, no problem for a kicker who three Sundays ago was out of football. Bryant hit his kick through the middle with 2 minutes 4 seconds remaining, the last of his three field goals in the Giants' 9-6 victory. That mostly erased the aftertaste of a day of confusion for the Giants' offense, which struggled terribly to cope with blitzes and continued to perform incompetently inside the red zone.
The Giants' defense held the Seahawks (0-3) to only 145 yards, with cornerback Will Peterson picking off a pass in the last two minutes for the second consecutive week. The Giants are 2-1, tied for the division lead with road games against Arizona and Dallas in the next two weeks.
"We were sleep-walking through the first half, and the second half we kind of woke up," said Michael Strahan, who got his first sack of the season.
The Seahawks allowed a league-worst 470 yards rushing in the first two weeks, and the Giants wanted to run through the same holes they had seen on videotape all week. But Seattle completely revamped its approach, attacking the Giants with zone blitzes that were well-disguised and extremely effective. The Giants had incredible success last week against St. Louis using a five-wide formation, with no one in the backfield, but every time they tried this today, the Seahawks charged Collins.
Virtually untouched last week, Collins was forced from the pocket repeatedly and had eight incompletions in the first half, twice as many as he had during the entire Rams game. There were moments today, left guard Rich Seubert said, when the players returned to the huddle unsure of how or why a play had broken down.
But the Giants still had a chance to take a lead into halftime. Seattle had a pair of field goals and led, 6-0, but the Giants advanced to the 1-yard line with 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Collins was driven out of the pocket on third down and he threw the ball out of the end zone.
Giants Coach Jim Fassel wanted to create some momentum going into halftime. Settling for a field goal would seem like a letdown, a perpetuation of a nagging problem. In the first two weeks, the Giants entered the red zone on seven drives and generated just one touchdown, 14.3 percent, 31st in the N.F.L.
So Fassel ordered Collins to go for a touchdown on fourth down, and the quarterback pitched to Tiki Barber to the right, a play the Giants worked on in practice constantly this week. But before Barber had taken a couple of steps, the field ahead of him became crowded. Cornerback Shawn Springs burst past tight end Dan Campbell and threw Barber for a 4-yard loss, and Barber slammed the ball to the ground angrily. The Giants had missed the chance to take control of the game, Barber said later, while regretting that he had been so demonstrative in his frustration.
But the Giants' defense shut down the Seahawks in the second half, invading the backfield to cut down running back Shaun Alexander and limiting Seattle quarterback Trent Dilfer to short passes. Peterson and Will Allen, burned on big plays during their rookie season, have forced receivers to make plays in front of them this season. "I kind of expected this type of game," Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren said. "Not the exact score, but a real close game."
The Giants began the third quarter going westward, into the wind, and they had a 16-yard drive that stalled at the Seattle 15-yard line. Bryant's 33-yard field goal cut Seattle's advantage to 6-3, and as Fassel noted later, the Giants had absorbed half of the quarter, preventing the Seahawks from playing with the winds at their back for long.
The Giants again moved the ball deep into Seattle territory at the outset of the fourth quarter, and again they were stopped, at the 4-yard line. Bryant tied the game with a 21-yarder, and the Giants regained possession at their 5-yard line with 8:04 remaining. Springs hurt his left foot in the third quarter tackling Giants fullback Charles Stackhouse, and Collins completed a 20-yard pass to Amani Toomer, who would have been covered by Springs; the Giants were on the move.
Collins hit Ike Hilliard with an 18-yarder and completed a pass to Jeremy Shockey for 5 yards, advancing the ball to the Seattle 37. Collins looked at Fassel on the sideline, to get a sense of whether the coach thought they were in field-goal range. Fassel held up a hand with his fingers and thumb extended: 5 more yards.
Before the game, Fassel met with the captains near Collins's locker to discuss their options on the coin toss. If they won the flip, they would have taken the ball, and if they lost, Fassel told them, face the east end zone, so they would presumably have the wind at their backs through the first and fourth quarters. Fassel felt the strong wind during pregame warm-ups and thought it would be a significant advantage at the end.
And now there was only 208 seconds left, score tied, wind at their backs. Ron Dayne ran for 4 yards, and after Barber was stopped, Bryant jogged onto the field to attempt a kick longer than 36 yards for the first time in his career.
Bryant hit the kick, his ninth consecutive successful field goal, and his teammates mobbed him. "I love you," Strahan said to Bryant, meaning every word at the moment.
Peterson picked off Dilfer's last pass, the Giants ran out the clock and, after the game, Fassel asked Bryant to say something. Bryant thanked God and then said, "I've been waiting for four years to get a chance. I'm glad you could see me finally get my chance." And the players cheered, happy, relieved.