Just when you're about to write off Kerry Collins, he turns in a virtuoso performance that leaves opposing defenses gasping and fans breathless. Collins is the musician who plays a breathtaking solo that makes you forget that the rest of the concert was hollow.
For the second week in a row, the Giants were in the shadow of the playoff gallows. They were down, 24-20, to the Seattle Seahawks, and all really did seem lost. Then here comes Collins: white horse, strong arm leading the home team to a dramatic victory that keeps its fragile playoffs hopes alive.
Win two more games, the Eagles lose two more, and the Giants are in. Two victories, two Tampa Bay losses, the Giants are in.
Pretty? Ugly. Collins doesn't care. "These days, we'll take 'em any way we can get 'em," he said. "We're still alive."
This is the second consecutive week the Giants nearly gave away a game and saved the day with a last-minute drive triggered by Collins. Last weekend Collins did it against the woeful Arizona Cardinals. Yesterday he did it against a Seattle team that was able to make him unsettled enough and uncertain enough to all but dash the Giants' playoff hopes.
There were boos and large splotches of empty seats. Collins heard the boos and ignored them. The game in many ways is like life: you have your ups, your downs, most of all, you have a way to overcome. "You have good plays, and bad plays, and you got to keep at it for 60 minutes," Collins said.
Collins's lowest point was in the second quarter. The Giants' defense had forced a Seattle fumble. Mike Barrow made the hit, Michael Strahan scooped up the fumble and scored. The Giants' season seemed intact.
But on the Giants' next series, Collins stood in his own end zone, holding, thinking, in a situation that called for a quick decision. He was sacked and fumbled. John Randle recovered in the end zone for a Seattle touchdown.
Season up in smoke.
Then Shaun Alexander, the running back the Giants passed up to draft Ron Dayne, scored on a 16-yard reception in the third quarter. The Giants' season was over. And Collins knew that at the end of the day it was going to be his fault.
"Fans are going to react," Collins said. "Fans are going to boo. You have to stay focused and positive."
Collins had two chances to pull this one out. First the Giants got the ball on their 1-yard line
"I said: `We're going 99 yards. Let's go,' " Collins recalled. Instead the Giants went three plays and out — two runs, a pass completion for no gain.
A possession later, with 2 minutes 52 seconds left, the Giants got the ball on their 4.
"I said, `O.K., 96 yards,' " Collins recalled.
Two straight completions to Toomer, two more to Jurevicius, one to Hilliard, and the Giants were on the Seattle 25-yard line with 48 seconds left.
Hilliard dropped the next pass over the middle — "I tried to protect myself more than making the play," he said — and then Collins went right back to him for an 18-yard gain. Three plays later, he hit Hilliard for a 7-yard touchdown and the 27-24 victory.
Collins should thank the football gods for Ike Hilliard. "I know he had some rough times this year in the off-season, being hurt and all," Collins said. "He's a good player. I love having him around and I'd like to have him around for a long time."
What is it about Collins? So up and down through the course of a game, even the course of an entire season. Then suddenly he's the leader of a game-winning drive.
Amani Toomer said of Collins: "He has an intangible quality. He's like Joe Montana. Montana was a money player. Kerry's our money player."
Let's not get carried away. Collins is not Joe Montana. We make too much out of these single-game performances. We praise too much when teams win and are probably a bit too harsh when they lose. This was the problem with Kerry Collins. He was never the mountain we made him into last season when he led the Giants on a five-game winning streak to end the regular season and enjoyed two strong playoff games.
After his Super Bowl debacle against Baltimore, we tore him down. Collins said that that's when he started blocking out boos, the negative reactions.
"There's a lot more to life than winning or losing a football game," Collins said. "That takes a while to learn, it takes maturity. It took me a while to realize that things are going to be O.K. That's what I didn't have."
I don't know whether Collins is transformed in his personal life. Don't know what demons he has exorcised. Who does? This much is certain: Collins is a good N.F.L. quarterback, a quarterback a lot of teams would like to have.
He is not Brett Favre, turning a game topsy-turvy then pulling it out at the last second with spunk and guts. Collins is Collins. We should probably accept the fact that we'll be writing these last-gasp, come-from-behind articles for the next two weeks, and for all we know the next few seasons.