Don't get the wrong idea about Kerry Collins.
He's as bummed out about the Giants' season as anyone, especially since he's as much to blame for their losing record as anyone. He hates that the Giants are this close to playing out the string in a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations.
But he also knows it's not the end of the world.
"I used to live and die with what went on in any particular season, and that's not good," Collins said yesterday in the aftermath of the Giants' latest screw-up, a 28-10 loss Sunday to NFC East rival Philadelphia. "I've got such a better perspective on things. As you get older, perspective becomes a little clearer about what's really important. It's not life or death."
Now, before you accuse Collins of not caring enough about all that has gone wrong this season, chill out. The guy is 30 years old, he has overcome a drinking problem that threatened to ruin his NFL career, and his wife is pregnant with the couple's first child.
You're allowed to have some perspective about a 4-6 season, even when a lot of it is your fault. You're allowed to understand the reasons for your failings, to intellectualize them without beating yourself up. It sure beats the way he was a few years ago, when Collins was incapable of separating himself from what happened on Sundays. Back then, his life wasn't merely tied to the results; his life was the results.
Now that he thinks back on his days with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints, Collins realizes why being so wrapped up in the game inhibited his ability to overcome his on-field mistakes. And why it was such a big reason he couldn't control his drinking.
"That's the biggest thing for me now, being able to rebound from things, being able to respond to different challenges," he said. "I wasn't nearly as good at it as I am now. Being able to handle these kinds of things is so much better because of where I'm at with sobriety."
How he handles things is very important for Collins, because he is in the midst of his worst season with the Giants. No longer the swashbuckler who is unafraid to throw down the field, Collins' performance has mirrored his team's fall from grace. He has only 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His 74.0 rating is on pace for his worst since his first season with the Giants in 1999 (73.3).
"I don't get too caught up in getting down, especially at this point in my career," he said. "I've got to lead by example. This is one of the most important times to do that, when things are down. Everybody's going to look at me and see how I react to it. I understand the value of keeping a positive attitude more so than at any other point in my career."
Even so, it wouldn't hurt every now and again for Collins to get in someone's face. Throw a helmet. Something! Players respond to that kind of passion, and Collins ought to show it once in a while, instead of that glassy-eyed stare when he walks off after a turnover. Actually, Collins has that look on purpose; it's his way of showing everyone around him that he'll keep an even keel. At a time like this, though, even keel isn't what's needed. A fist in the air is what's needed.
Then again, maybe Collins has been too busy running away from defenders to catch his breath long enough for such outbursts. He has been pummeled because of the Giants' second-class offensive line, which has succumbed to inexperience, injuries and ineffectiveness. So maybe it's a swipe at the front office that Collins ought to deliver.
General manager Ernie Accorsi gambled and lost when he retooled the offensive line after the free-agent defections of Mike Rosenthal and Jason Whittle, and Collins has paid the price with the worst protection in his five seasons with the Giants. Accorsi had better address the issue, through free agency and/or the draft, because Collins is only as good as his protection. Like any pocket passer, Collins needs time for receivers to complete their downfield routes. But with no time to drop back, he has been hurried too often, with turnovers the inevitable byproduct.
The interceptions and fumbles won't help Jim Fassel hold onto his job, but Collins figures to be the Giants' franchise quarterback for at least another five or six years. If that's the case - and there's no reason it shouldn't be, in spite of this year's struggles - then the Giants will need to build a wall of protection around him to make sure he can be at his best.
Collins makes no excuses for his performance, and insists he doesn't even notice the continual line breakdowns. Then again, maybe he's just covering for his guys.
Either way, Collins can't escape the pain of a season gone bad. But at least he can put it all in perspective. At least he can appreciate the fact that no one died.