Kerry Collins stood by his locker, drained. He had gone through all the emotions, and it showed.
The game was lost, then he put on a Joe Montana/John Elway frantic rally in the fourth quarter to seemingly win it. Then it was inexplicably tied on another special teams blunder and then lost again for good. And there goes the undefeated season.
"I'm about as spent after this game as I've ever been in a long time," Collins said after the Giants lost in overtime to the Cowboys in a game that refused to end. "Just the emotions of coming back after playing terrible in the first half and coming back the way we did in the second half. It was just a roller coaster out there."
This wasn't about blowing a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter, as the Giants did in San Francisco in the playoffs in January. This was about Collins bringing the Giants all the way back from a 29-14 hole against Dallas in the fourth quarter and taking a 32-29 lead with 11 seconds remaining.
And still losing.
Collins, the franchise quarterback trying to operate behind an offensive line that played until the fourth quarter like it had been put together at a flea market, took his game to an elite level in the fourth period, throwing two TD passes and setting the Giants up for Matt Bryant's 30-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in regulation.
"Kerry was magnificent," Jim Fassel said. "He hung in there very well."
After Bryant kicked what should have been the winning field goal, Collins and the rest of the Giants then watched in horror as Bryant's squib kick rolled out of bounds at the 1. Fassel said it was supposed to be squibbed - but down the middle. He figured the ball would be returned to around the 25 or 30 and five seconds would go off the clock. Instead, Dallas got the ball at the 40 and no time went off the clock.
The ball had trickled out of bounds. One more yard and it's in the end zone for a touchback.
"I kind of thought, 'Not good, they get it on the 40,'" Collins said. "It's tough to put our defense in that position. Regardless, we've got to try and find a way to win the game."
Two plays later, including a 25-yard pass to Antonio Bryant, the Cowboys were in position for Billy Cundiff to hit a 52-yard field goal with no time left on the clock. Cundiff then converted the 25-yard winning field goal on Dallas' second possession of overtime.
The result was as stunning as the playoff loss in San Francisco.
Collins was out of sorts in the first half. The last time he played so jittery for so long, Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense came at him so hard in the Super Bowl it seemed like they had 15 players on the field.
Fassel has constructed a high-powered offense of multi-millionaires at the skill positions. He tried to protect it and make it go last night with an inexperienced offensive line that couldn't protect Collins in the first half.
But teams with Super Bowl aspirations need their quarterback to find a way to raise his game to a new level when all is falling apart around him.
And that's what Collins did in the fourth quarter last night as the Giants, down 26-14 at the start of the period, made Bill Parcells wish, for a short while, that he hadn't come home for the weekend.
Collins was near perfect after the Cowboys took a 29-14 lead. He hit Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer for TDs and then positioned the Giants for Bryant's field goal. Fassel returned to his offense from the second half of last year, speeding up the pace, which helped Collins finish the night with 265 yards.
"Things were clicking," Collins said.
Now the Giants have to go to Washington Sunday and face the undefeated Redskins. In a short week, with the pain of such a tough loss, it won't be easy to recuperate. They had an entire offseason to think about the San Francisco loss. They have less than a week to get ready to play again this time.
Collins looked drained. But he still looked better than Fassel after the game. It was an opportunity for Fassel to further push away the Parcells shadow. Instead, Parcells only enhanced his reputation by taking a team that lost its opener, a team that is coming off three straight 5-11 seasons, and beating a team that thinks it will be playing deep into January.
"We have a short week and it hurts badly right now," Fassel said.
September 16, 2003