Even when he had poor games, even when he could not throw a decent out pattern, Giants quarterback Kerry Collins could humble a defense and inspire an offense with his arm strength. It has often overshadowed a pair of feet that are closer to lead than liquid, and it has kept him viable in this generation of quarterbacks with fast legs.
With the flip of a Tiki Barber lateral on the first play of the second half today, after the Indianapolis Colts had gulped down their sports drinks and motivation and memories of a second-half comeback last Sunday in Cleveland, Collins stole it all away with a heave that called for 1 part touch, 10 parts muscle.
From the Giants' 18, he took Barber's lateral and uncorked a tight spiral that traveled about 50 yards before dropping into the hands of Amani Toomer, who took it the distance to help lift the Giants to a 17-3 lead in a 44-27 victory. The Colts' crowd in RCA Dome was silent. Collins had sunk them with one shot.
"That one was pretty much all I had," Collins said. "To catch it, get it and let it rip like it, there wasn't a whole lot of touch. Some touch, but that was about as far as I could throw it."
The 82-yard touchdown was the loudest play on a day in which Collins bumped up against quarterback perfection. He completed 23 of 29 passes for 366 yards and threw a career-high 4 touchdown passes, good for a 158.3 quarterback rating, the highest mark possible.
As Collins had done for much of the season, he shared the stage with a bigger name. Today it was Peyton Manning, the Colts' quarterback, who was erratic in completing 30 of 46 passes for 365 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Most of Manning's production came when the game was largely out of hand in the second half.
In previous games Collins went up against Donovan McNabb, Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia, Mark Brunell and Steve McNair, to name a few. But in the second half of the season — and especially in his last three games — Collins has had few equals.
"He knows what he needs to do, when he needs to do it," said fullback Charles Stackhouse, who caught an 18-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter from Collins, who lofted a soft timing throw. "He knew he couldn't zoom it there. He had guys with their hands in his face, so he had to get it over their hands. That comes with great quarterback instincts."
Toomer, who caught three of Collins's touchdown passes, said, "He's the best quarterback I've ever played for."
Collins has completed 310 passes this season and can break his own franchise record of 327 with a strong game Saturday against the National Football Conference East champion Philadelphia Eagles.
In the eight games since Coach Jim Fassel took over the Giants' play calling, Collins has delivered the ball with accuracy and timing, not always his strong suits. His 60.8 percent completion rate is the highest of his career (he entered the season at 54.6 percent), and his and the Giants' offensive talents appear to be meshing at the same time. Better yet, they are meshing at the right time of season, along with an offensive line that has given Collins time to use his arm in so many ways.
"We've shown glimpses of this all year," Collins said. "Look at our guys. We've got guys who can play, good players, talented guys. The pieces are there."
And him? "I don't promote myself," Collins said. "I'm not saying it's wrong if anyone else does, but that's just not my style. I come to work every day, and Sunday show up and play well.
"I think I've played better consistently this year than I have at any other point in my career."