The game was nearly four years ago, and the other team looked nothing like it does today. Its coach was different. So was its quarterback, and nearly everyone else, for that matter. But Kerry Collins remembers the game as if it were yesterday.
"We kicked their butts, man," Collins said with a big grin when asked about his recollections of the last Giants-Jets matchup. "It was just one of those games where everything went right for us."
In only his second start at Giants Stadium since signing with the Giants the previous February, Collins offered a tantalizing glimpse of his potential. He torched a Jets team that featured Bill Parcells on the sideline and Ray Lucas at quarterback; Collins was 17-for-29 for 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 41-28 victory.
For Collins, there would be nothing better than a repeat of that Dec. 5, 1999 game when the two teams meet again Sunday at Giants Stadium. Maybe then Collins can get the skeptics off his back ... at least for another week, anyway.
Collins is coming off a similarly impressive performance, this one against the previously unbeaten Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. His 375-yard, two-touchdown effort sparked a 29-17 upset and breathed new life into a season that was on the brink of collapse just days ago. At 3-4 and only two games behind NFC East front-runner Dallas, the Giants are still in it. But if they want to stay in it, Collins must live up to the expectations he creates with such brilliant moments.
Collins is blessed with a wonderful arm, but maybe that's as much a curse as a gift. When you see him hit his receivers in stride on a go route, or thread a pass between two defenders in a place only he and a few others can go, you expect him to do it all the time. Or at least most of the time.
But for all his awe-inspiring moments, Collins still is prone to mistakes. He throws off his back foot, a sign of rushing his passes, although not to the point that it has become a chronic problem. (Memo to readers: Don't believe everything CBS analyst Cris Collinsworth says on television.) Collins also tries to force the ball, often trusting his strong arm too much. They are errors of aggressiveness, but they are errors nonetheless, and they must stop.
Collins has nine touchdown passes, which is about on pace for his average with the Giants; he has never thrown for more than 22 touchdowns in New York. But his 10 interceptions are on pace for his most ever; his career high is 21 with Carolina in 1997.
Some of Collins' problems are not in his control. He is playing behind an inexperienced and injury-riddled offensive line that has two rookie guards, a second-year right tackle, a banged-up left tackle and a center who was shifted back from right tackle. Like any quarterback, there's nothing quite as comforting as playing behind five blockers who know what they are doing. These guys are trying, but it's still far from perfect.
"I think Kerry has played well, but his numbers don't reflect that," coach Jim Fassel said. "It hasn't always been good out there, things with protection and dropped balls and frustration. But he's handled himself really well. He hasn't lost his composure."
Fassel didn't make things any easier by using an ultraconservative game plan until last week. Collins is a downfield thrower, not a dink-and-dunk passer, so Fassel might as well stick with what worked against the Vikings. If it hadn't been for six dropped passes, Collins might have thrown for 500 yards and five touchdowns last week.
"We're finding out the things we do well," Collins said, "and the things we don't do well."
What Collins does well is spray the ball around to his receivers to keep a defense off balance. What he does well is throw the deep pass, maybe better than anyone but Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. But what he doesn't do well is get rid of the ball when nothing is there. He needs to get better at it as a way to cut down on the interceptions.
Collins understands and accepts the weight of expectation placed upon his position.
His arm is his blessing, yet it is also his bane. With it, he can do so much good and so much harm. Somewhere in there is a middle ground. If the Giants plan to live out their ambitious dreams this year, Collins somehow must find it.