Andy Reid usually displays as much animation publicly as the average garden slug. But even he could not resist gushing Tuesday when talking about the quarterback his defense must stop Saturday. "Kerry is on fire," the Eagles' coach said.
That would be Giants quarterback Kerry Collins, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, who seems to be at the intersection of ability and experience as he approaches his 30th birthday Monday.
How Collins plays Saturday will help determine how he spends that birthday. If he leads the Giants to a victory, he will be studying tapes in preparation for a playoff game. If not, he probably will be cleaning out his locker.
Such is the level of confidence the team has in Collins, though, that no one is intimidated by the notion of facing a defense that ranks second in yards, second in points and first in sacks, and that held the Giants to three points Oct. 28.
That might as well have been a different team. The next morning, coach Jim Fassel took over the play-calling and the offense since has been transformed. No one has benefited more than Collins. Fassel's emphasis on getting in and out of the huddle rapidly and of getting rid of the ball quickly has helped the line keep Collins upright and has helped him get into a rhythm.
"He's a great quarterback," tight end Dan Campbell said. "We've always believed in him. It's proven that if you keep people off him, he will make plays."
The rap on Collins always has been that he can be thrown off his game under pressure because he lacks mobility. But he has been sacked only five times in the past seven games, and defenses have paid.
Receiver Amani Toomer, who played at Michigan with several future NFL quarterbacks, including Elvis Grbac and Brian Griese, and as a Giant with everyone from Dave Brown to Tommy Maddox to Danny Kanell to Kent Graham, said Collins is by far the best quarterback with whom he has worked.
"A lot of those guys were good players; you've seen what Maddox has done [this season], what Grbac did," Toomer said. "But this guy, just the arm strength, the decision-making, he's just a cut above.
"Throws he can make with his body totally out of position, it's just incredible . . . There's not much he can't do with a football, put it that way."
Fassel has given Collins more freedom to adjust plays. He recalled one in the red zone against the Colts designed to go to tight end Jeremy Shockey on an in-cut. Instead, Collins saw something in the coverage that led him to throw to Toomer on an out-cut for a first down. "I don't know how you put a guy in command, like a quarterback, then take all the spontaneity away from him and make it where he doesn't have to think," Fassel said. "You can't put handcuffs on him."
Said Collins, "I think I'm playing with confidence. I feel good about my decision-making, the way I'm approaching games. My feel for the offense is probably better than it's ever been."
Toomer agreed. "I was watching film and some of the decisions he made, he threw to the third receiver and it seemed like he was throwing to the first receiver. He made his reads so quick that it was just like he was the actual guy who was intended for the ball."
It appeared at times during the Colts game that Collins and Toomer were playing a game of catch, with defensive backs as mere props. The Giants know not to expect that against the Eagles, who will send 75 percent of their secondary to the Pro Bowl and who terrorize quarterbacks with creative blitzes.
"Against this crew, you have to be patient," Collins said. "To think you're just going to go out there and throw the ball all over the place like last week, you're kidding yourself.''