Collins keeps confidence in check

While he wasn't about to make any brash, Jeremy Newberry-type predictions, Giants quarterback Kerry Collins made it clear he and his teammates are feeling good about their chances heading into Sunday's playoff game against the 49ers in San Francisco.

"Our confidence level is very high," Collins said after practice yesterday. "We've played consistently well for about four weeks now. You beat a good team like Philadelphia and it can do nothing but give you confidence, so I see a bunch of confident guys in this room. It's a quiet confidence, though. We don't need to say anything or talk about anything or say what we're going to do or what we're not going to do."

Collins seemed to be referring to Newberry, the 49ers center, saying Monday night -- and repeating Wednesday -- that he expected the Niners to "kick (the Giants' butts)."

Collins called Newberry's comments "bulletin-board material." He said while the Giants don't need extra motivation, Newberry's words had given them some.

"I thought we had a lot before that, but we have even more now," he said.

Collins was at ease yesterday, which is understandable given the kind of season he has had. For all the acclaim heaped on Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia, who is going to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, Collins' statistics were as good, if not better, than Garcia's.

Collins led the NFC in passing yards, with a Giants record 4,073, and set a team record with 335 completions in 545 attempts (61.5 percent). He threw 19 touchdown passess, with 14 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 85.4. Garcia completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 3,344 yards, with 21 TDs, 10 interceptions and a rating of 85.6.

Collins also reduced his fumbles from his NFL-record 23 in 2001 to eight this season.

"I think, from an overall standpoint, Kerry made a lot of progress," coach Jim Fassel said. "What I wanted to do with Kerry is continue to make him very consistent, so we don't have any ups and downs in the game. We had less of a downside with him, and I think he continued to make big throws, especially down the field."

Collins attributed his reduction in fumbles to several factors, the first being a greater level of concentration. But he also said he has had better protection from the offensive line.

"There's not a lot of guys coming in, swinging at the ball," he said.

And perhaps there has been smoother snaps from new center Chris Bober, who took over for Dusty Zeigler, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Collins also said the natural maturation process of an NFL quarterback is part of his improvement. He turned 30 Monday and is in his eighth season. He said he is finally "starting to figure out what it takes to be good week in and week out and be consistent."

Collins signed a two-year extension before the season that will pay him $15 million over the next three years. Though he described his new contract as "not the biggest that's ever been signed," he said it was a deal he felt he earned. With that peace of mind, he said he has been freed to concentrate on football, rather than worrying about playing for his next contract.
Jan. 3,03