The Giants lost the game because they lost their cool yesterday.
So said Kerry Collins after the Giants melted down in crunch time.
Collins, who threw for 342 yards in another dazzling performance, could only look on helplessly as the Giants' defense, composure and kicking game took turns breaking down in the final minute.
"Very chaotic," Collins said after the 39-38 disaster. "I don't know what happened, it was hard to see, but flags and all that kind of stuff ... to me that's a complete loss of composure and that's not going to help you win ballgames.
"We lost ours."
There was 1:05 left in the game when Tai Streets got loose against Will Allen for the go-ahead touchdown and from that point on, what hadn't fallen apart for the Giants did.
First, safety Shaun Williams got into it with Terrell Owens, almost pushing over the wide receiver. Both were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct but that did not cool down emotions. Williams ran over to the Niner huddle before returning to his side.
The Niners attempted to connect on their third straight two-point conversion to put them up by a field goal. But Allen picked it off and began to return the ball out of the end zone, when he was hit out of bounds from behind by Owens.
The personal foul would have moved the Niners way back on the kickoff and guaranteed the Giants great field position. But they didn't keep their heads. They let Owens - and Jeremy Newberry - get under their skin.
Safety Omar Stoutmire, who had dealt Owens a couple of big hits in the first game, pounced on the wide receiver, cursing at him repeatedly while they rolled on the ground in a scrum.
Then Williams, again, rushed in and took a swipe at Niners center Newberry, who had made the Giants Stadium bulletin board when he predicted that the 49ers would kick the Giants' butts.
The officials hit Williams for unsportsmanlike conduct and that offset Owens' infraction.
"I'm going to protect my teammate," Williams explained afterward. "I see an offensive lineman trying to maul a defensive back, I don't even think twice."
The problem, of course, was that it was Owens, not Newberry, who had tussled with Allen. Williams went after the wrong guy and ended up getting tossed from the game for throwing a punch.
Even then, the Giants had the last chance to punctuate the wild ending after Jeff Chandler's weak kickoff was returned 32 yards to the Giants 48 by Delvin Joyce.
Collins hit Ron Dixon for 10 yards. Then Ahmed Plummer, who had been torched by Amani Toomer most of the day, got inside the receiver this time and made what looked like an interception at the 15. Officials, however, called it an incomplete pass when the ball came out.
The non-call allowed Collins to complete two passes to get the Giants to the Niners 23, where the final implosion came with six seconds left.
Snapper Trey Junkin, a 41-year-old journeyman who was signed Tuesday, made his second bad snap on a field goal. Holder Matt Allen picked it up and motioned his teammates downfield.
His wounded duck had no chance of being caught for a touchdown, but the area near the goal line turned into chaos with Giants being pulled down. No interference was called but an illegal-man downfield penalty was. The game was over.
January 6, 2003