There was a whistle no one heard. A flag no one saw. A play that never really existed. And after everything - or nothing - the Giants lost their starting quarterback.
Kerry Collins was knocked out of yesterday's loss to the Redskins after his left ankle folded under the body of defensive end Bruce Smith with 8:59 left in the third quarter. The play should have been whistled dead before the snap because the play clock had drained to zero.
"I don't know what the hell [happened]," Giants coach Jim Fassel said of the officiating confusion on the play. "You've got to stop the game and be active up there with a whistle. I never heard a whistle or anything like that."
Neither did referee Walt Coleman, who said it is the responsibility of the back judge - in this case, substitute Greg Steed - to watch the play clock. The officiating crew was a mixed group thrown together because of the snowstorm. Steed was working because Perry Paganelli could not make it to New Jersey. Coleman refereed because Ron Winter also had travel problems.
In all, four of the seven officials were not originally scheduled to work this game.
"The procedure is for him immediately to come running in blowing his whistle," Coleman said. "I didn't hear a whistle until the whole play was over and [Steed] actually got up to the ball. That was the first time any of us knew that a whistle was blown."
According to Coleman, Steed said he was blowing his whistle and blamed the harsh winds at Giants Stadium for hiding the sound. The back judge is typically stationed 25 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
"If you are going to blow it dead, blow it dead," said Collins, who had to be carted off the field with an ankle sprain. He said he didn't even realize there was a penalty on the play until he reached the trainer's room for X-rays that were negative.
The injury occurred on third-and-7 from the Giants' 39. Collins dropped back and threw a pass to Amani Toomer. As he released the ball, his knees were wrapped up by Smith. Smith dragged Collins to his back, his left ankle wedged under the 262-pound veteran.
"It was not my intention to hurt him, but it was my intention to knock the hell out of him," Smith said. "When I hit him as he released the ball, all of my weight rolled up on the back of his ankle and immediately he started moaning and groaning. I knew there was something seriously wrong."
Collins said he felt "something pop or give or something" and was scared the injury was worse than a sprain. "After I was there for a little while, the pain wasn't real, real bad," he said.
Collins has been nearly indestructible amid a crumbling team. He has started 67 consecutive games for the Giants. He said he expects to be back on the field this season, but with three games remaining, he might not have time to heal.
He is scheduled to have an MRI today. "It's not a severe, severe high ankle sprain," he said, "but it certainly is something we want to take a look at."
Collins threw for 62 yards, completing 5 of 14 passes with an interception before leaving. Jesse Palmer stepped in and completed 7 of 11 for 83 yards but was sacked five times. "I just wasn't adjusted to the speed of the game," Palmer said.
Palmer looked as rushed as he was rusty, but he could be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Fassel didn't seem to want to think about that yesterday.
"I don't know what [Collins'] status for next week or the following week or the rest of the year is," Fassel said. "High ankle sprains usually take a while. But [today] he could come back and it's not as bad."