The Giants were chasing Kurt Warner like they were determined to run him all the way back to San Francisco, all the way back to January, and lay him out the way they never could the freckled face of Jeff Garcia. This was going to be the season Warner had started on his path back to the Super Bowl, back on the way to the Hall of Fame, but the waves and waves of Giants' defenders hit him so relentlessly, so violently, the Rams' quarterback was on his way to just one place: the hospital.
The memories of those gasping, exhausted defensive linemen at 3Com Stadium faded in the frenzy on Sunday, the Giants substituting fresh bodies on the defensive line, eight sets of fresh legs and ferocious dispositions crushing Warner into a concussion. They punished Warner the way they never let themselves Garcia, letting this defense, this franchise, start its way back on a long road to redemption.
"The San Francisco game is going to take a season to bury," Michael Strahan said.
The 49ers' collapse doesn't disappear with the 23-13 victory at Giants Stadium. It doesn't disappear with the forcing of four of the quarterback's six fumbles, the six sacks, the interception. It doesn't disappear with a fourth-quarter stand in the wake of the 24-point playoff collapse that still hangs over this franchise. The 49ers' collapse belongs to the Giants until they get back to the playoffs, until they get back to the moment of truth.
"I'm not ready to get too fat and happy yet," Keith Hamilton grumbled. "I've been there too many times when we played good on opening day and then [we] go to [bleep]."
Too many times, they've gone to bleep with expectations lording too high, expectations blown beyond proportion of the Giants' talent. They won't be past San Francisco until the Giants get back to the playoffs, get back to a fourth quarter and hold back the game, hold back the quarterback, the way they didn't do in 1997 against the Vikings, in 2003 against the 49ers.
"We had a burr up our butt," linebacker Mike Barrow said.
These Giants were like those old Georgetown Hoyas, substituting in shifts, the front four transforming itself into a menacing machine. As Barrow flatly said, "Guys just kicked [Rams] guys' butts in front of them." As much as the offense has turned into the glamour boys on these Giants, as much as these Giants belong to Kerry Collins and Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer, together they will not make a run into late January unless the defensive front regenerates itself.
They still struggled to survive Sunday. They were still fortunate that the officials missed the call on Tiki Barber's lost fumble near his own goal line in the fourth quarter, fortunate that deposed genius Mike Martz missed the fact that Warner suffered a concussion that reduced to him to a dazed debacle.
"We couldn't figure out why he was having such a hard time getting plays in," Martz said.
Or why he couldn't hold onto the ball? What a beauty, Martz is. The trouble with these so-called gurus lording over the larger operation is that they forget there are actually human beings - not X's and O's on a chalkboard - called upon to execute these brilliant plays. Nevertheless, the Giants will take it and turn to next Monday night's game with Bill Parcells, a meeting that brings an immense burden for Jim Fassel to deliver with the superior talent and team on his side.
Make no mistake: There is too much talent here. General manager Ernie Accorsi did a magnificent job delivering his coach everything needed for a Super Bowl run, addressing the failings of that 49ers' game with live young bodies on the defensive line, yes, but competent professionals on special teams too. Accorsi has an amazing consistency with his moves, slowly and surely changing the face of these Giants until they finally resemble a championship contender. This isn't 2000, when the Giants came out of nowhere to win the NFC title. This time, the Giants are carefully constructed to take a shot at the Super Bowl, to take it now.
"We've got enough talent on both sides of the ball to do something real special," Barrow said. " ... It's no secret. We really feel if everything worked together, that we can go all the way to Houston and win that thing."
They are a long way from the Super Bowl, a long way from obliterating those demons that have defined two grim playoff collapses under this coach's watch. Fassel is trying hard to deflect the championship burden, downplaying the significance of Sunday's victory in one breath, but then insisting, "[St. Louis] is a team a lot more than us that is being talked about going to the Super Bowl."
No more. The Giants pounded it right out of the Rams, out of Warner, on Sunday afternoon. This is a long season, but the message was unmistakable here. The Giants are tough and talented now, the coach on the clock to get them together, get them to January and get it right. The Giants tried to chase Kurt Warner all the way back to San Francisco on Sunday, tried to hit him all the way back to January.
Only, it doesn't work that way. The Giants didn't make that historic collapse right on Sunday, and they'll never do it in September and October and November. The heart and soul of this franchise, Strahan, told the truth. It will take a season to bury San Francisco. Redemption doesn't come in September. It doesn't come this easily.