When Jim Fassel stands on the Giants' sideline calling plays, a job he reclaimed three games ago, he expects his players to stay involved in what he's doing. When something fails to work, the coach wants his sideline discussion to include explanations and input as to how it can be fixed. Players appreciate the trust from their coach, but just as important, they use it to build trust in each other.
When quarterback Kerry Collins connected with receiver Amani Toomer on a 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Giants' 19-17 win over Washington on Sunday, their belief in each other played a big part. New York had run the same play in the first quarter with nearly identical success, only Collins overthrew Tiki Barber, who was wide open on his way into the end zone. Toomer also found himself alone amid the Redskins' coverage, a fact he made sure to tell Fassel and Collins.
"That's what I'm talking about with guys taking ownership of their jobs," Fassel said. "Be into the game and let us know. ... I end up in a similar situation in almost the same spot on the field and here comes the call again. Kerry has got him locked in and remembers Amani was open last time. There's a touchdown."
Collins said the second time around "was a completely different coverage," which made Toomer the best target, rather than Barber or receiver Daryl Jones, who had his own chance with the play earlier in the quarter but dropped the ball. Toomer again was the third read in the progression, but Collins trusted his receiver's words and knew to look for him almost right away.
"I wasn't actually politicking Kerry in the huddle, since I'm really not the first read on that, but I told him, 'If you see me, just give me a little shot,' and he did," Toomer said. "That's the kind of relationship we have. We can communicate really well on the field."
Collins, in his third full season as the Giants' starter, and Toomer, in his seventh year with the Giants, are building the type of rapport essential for a quarterback and his No. 1 receiver to be a constant threat to find each other. Toomer has 47 catches for 706 yards (15 per reception) with three touchdowns.
The Giants need the Collins-to-Toomer connection now more than ever. Without fellow starter Ike Hilliard on injured reserve and a free agent at the end of the season, third receiver Ron Dixon unable to play with a strained knee ligament, and rookie Tim Carter out for the year with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, Toomer has become an army of one.
Toomer is no general, though. Relatively quiet, Toomer won't ever publicly demand the ball like teammate Jeremy Shockey did. He will, however, tell coaches what he sees. And they will believe him. "Amani is pretty real with things and he will tell you what he can do," Fassel said.
On Sunday, that discussion produced a touchdown.