Giants cornerback Will Allen coiled into his stance at the left end of the Giants' line, and all he could see was the Jets' snapper's fingertips. Everything slowed down. Giants Stadium, full of agonized fans tolerating their 11th minute of overtime, faded away. Allen heard nothing, saw only those fingertips.
When James Dearth's fingers closed on the football, Allen uncoiled and charged toward an imaginary spot in front of Jets kicker Doug Brien. Once he was launched, he waited for the sound, the thud that may have saved the Giants' season and torpedoed the Jets'.
Allen's blocked field goal, on a 51-yard attempt by Brien with 4 minutes 2 seconds left in overtime Sunday, gave the Giants the last chance they needed to march for their own game-winning field goal, a 29-yarder by Brett Conway with four seconds left that finished this wild and pivotal game with a 31-28 triumph.
"You don't know until you hear that sound, that loud thump," Allen said. "Everything was in slow motion, but I don't even know what it hit. I heard it."
What Allen was well aware of was the enormity of that thud, which stretched far beyond one game in the haze of a fall afternoon. It made possible the Giants' final drive to Conway's winning kick.
Allen's block, coming after he raced untouched around the right side of the Jets' line and with Brien not fully prepared for a hurried snap, was pivotal in lifting the Giants to 4-4 and keeping their playoff hopes alive. It virtually snuffed out the Jets' playoff dreams as they fell to 2-6.
"I felt we had things going," Jets Coach Herman Edwards said. "We had momentum, and you try to capitalize on that momentum."
The loss provided a cruel twist to the gutsy return of Jets quarterback Chad Pennington to the starting lineup against the same team and on the same field where a broken and dislocated wrist in the preseason cost him five games of the regular season.
The same twist was a rare good one for the Giants. That it came on special teams made it all the more miraculous in a season nearly sunk by special-teams failures that were responsible for two losses.
"This is the way we make our living," Giants Coach Jim Fassel said. "You are always on the edge."
Overtime was a back-and-forth battle that N.F.L. Films could turn into an hour drama with the right mood lighting and foreboding music. The Giants drove for one field-goal attempt, which Conway curled just outside the left upright. The Jets got two drives, one that ended in a punt, the other that ended in Allen's block, setting up another Giants drive that Conway finished with the game-winning field goal.
"That was really a roller-coaster ride out there," Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said. "Obviously we didn't need to make it as tough as we did, but I was proud of the way our guys hung in there."
The Giants seemed to have won long before the 3 hours 42 minutes it would eventually take. They snared three turnovers in the first half, all in great field position, but could turn that into only a 13-7 lead at halftime. They pounced again in the second half, running out to a 28-14 lead with 9:58 left in the fourth quarter, only to have that snatched away by two huge drives by the Jets.
Collins threw for 303 yards. Tiki Barber and Dorsey Levens combined to run for 116 yards. Receiver Amani Toomer caught 6 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jeremy Shockey looked as if he could make big catches over the middle all day. The Giants, with unusual stinginess, had no turnovers.
But what seemed like the strength of their team the past few weeks, their defense, could not hold that fourth-quarter lead. The Jets countered with big, sweeping pass plays, mostly from Pennington to Santana Moss, who caught 10 passes for 121 yards, that spurred the comeback.
"We have been in more close games than I've been in in my six years," said Giants defensive tackle Kenny Holmes. "You can't sit back and rest. Maybe that's what hurt us early in the season when we'd think, well, `We got this game,' and we'd end up losing. I think now we approach the game when the game is close that we have to make the play."
That play didn't come during the Jets' two fourth-quarter drives, when Pennington hit Moss for an 11-yard touchdown at the end of a 67-yard drive, then hit Anthony Becht for a 9-yard score at the end of an 86-yard drive to tie the game with 29 seconds left.
"We fought back, and that's a good sign," Pennington said. "The guys never gave up and they kept playing, and that's what we always talk about."
Overtime finally brought the Giants another life. They won the toss and drove to the Jets' 21 with a 22-yard pass from Collins to Toomer and several key throws to Shockey. But Conway's 39-yard attempt tumbled end over end and went wide. In probably his final week filling in for the injured Matt Bryant, Conway was crushed.
"Coach Fassel was the first one to say, `You're going to get another opportunity,' " Conway said. "But realistically, you usually don't."
The Giants forced the Jets to punt on their next drive. The Giants followed with an unsuccessful drive, then stalled the Jets at their 32 on a big third-down stop. Brien's kick from 51 yards never had a chance. Allen, who said he got close to blocking an extra point earlier, timed his leap beautifully on the snapper's move.
Allen said that in a way, he was glad the way overtime had transpired. "You know what, I don't want to say I wanted him to miss the kick, but I wanted to win the game on defense," Allen said. "Because the fourth quarter we didn't play well and I wanted to win the game."
After Allen's block, the offense took over again. On first down, Barber went down in a heap after getting tangled up with receiver Ike Hilliard. His knee twisted painfully and he went off for two plays, then came back after Toomer had made a crucial 19-yard catch on a crossing route to get to the Jets' 34.
On Barber's first play back, he ran a little curl route against the Jets' zone. It went for 12 yards. Barber ran for 11 yards on the next two plays to the 11.
He would have scored on the second one, he said, but he tripped. He gave Conway the second chance he wanted so badly.
"I'm glad he fell down," Conway said.
In the end, the Giants barely mustered a celebration, and the Jets walked off numbly. Someone jumped on Conway's back, but he was still angry about missing his first attempt. The Giants' season was still alive with playoff aspirations. The Jets' season wasn't.
Players on both sides seemed a little shell-shocked about the game's twists and turns, a Jets home game in Giants Stadium that started out weird and got weirder.
"It was a very unique game, to say the least," Barber said. "I think it turned out like `Gangs of New York,' with battles back and forth, back and forth."
For the Giants, the end was more survival than victory, their season saved by mere fingertips.