Never shy about taking responsibility for a bad throw, bad decision or bad game, quarterback Kerry Collins seemed pained yesterday talking about how the failures of the Giants' offense are being shouldered solely by offensive coordinator Sean Payton.
"You can probably look back at 10 things this season that Sean Payton had nothing to do with that cost us points," Collins said. "We know what's gone on in here. I just hate that Sean's going to bear the brunt of it."
Following Monday's 17-3 loss to the Eagles, Payton was relieved of his play-calling duties by coach Jim Fassel, who hinted at the change Tuesday, told his team of the decision Wednesday and officially informed the media yesterday.
Collins, who is close to Payton, was possibly the first player to know, courtesy of a sit-down conversation with Fassel. An eight-year veteran and three-year starter for the Giants, Collins said his opinion wasn't sought, only that it was an "open line of communication."
"I hate that it looks like (Payton's) taking the fall for the whole thing," Collins said. "Because I said this to the offense (Wednesday): 'We're the ones who step out on that field, we're the ones whose job it is to execute. And we're not doing it good enough, whether it's interceptions or fumbles or penalties or mistakes, whatever.' I said, 'I don't want one person in here to say that Sean was the reason.'
"Sean wasn't the reason. Sean's not the reason. That's on us as players. Hey, Jim made his decision and we're going to go forward with it. But I hate that it looks like Sean's being made the scapegoat of the whole thing. Because he's not."
The Giants (3-4) are reeling after consecutive losses, to the Falcons and Eagles, in which they scored a total of 13 points. Those games were separated by a bye week, during which Payton's mother passed away after a brief bout with cancer.
Through seven games, the Giants are averaging 12.7 points per game. With 89 points, they join Cincinnati as the only NFL teams with fewer than 100 points this season.
"Jim is the head coach. He's responsible for what goes on around here," Collins said. "We haven't been scoring a lot of points. Why is that? Well, most of it is stuff that had nothing to do with Sean. But Jim's going to make his decisions and we're going to go with it."
Payton, 38, is popular among players, perhaps none more so than Collins. The two are separated in age by only nine years and a day. Collins, clearly, would want Payton to return next season, something that is in jeopardy if Payton is not calling plays. Fassel characterized the change as "right now, it's permanent."
"Usually, most offensive coordinators do call the plays," Payton said. "I feel like that's what I do well. I feel like I'm a coordinator. I feel like I'm a play-caller. I'm a guy who coaches the quarterbacks."
Payton said he would deal with his future beyond this season "down the road."
Asked if he could foresee Payton returning in 2003 as a coordinator who did not call plays, Fassel said, "I don't want to get into any of that. That's down the road. I like Sean. I think Sean's a good football coach.... But this is a results-oriented business. That's it. I had seen this go far enough and I had to make a change. It's not that I don't think he's a good football coach or any of that. I need to make changes."
As to whether Payton's job is in danger this season, Fassel said, "No."
Against Jacksonville (3-4) on Sunday night, while Fassel calls plays, Payton will remain the link between the coaches and the quarterbacks, specifically Collins. In 1999, Collins became the full-time starter just one game before Payton was given the play-calling duties from Fassel.
Collins said his teammates are "right there with me" in understanding that Payton is not the source of their shortcomings. Collins also said he has "a lot of respect for Sean" in the way he is handling what has become a public humiliation.
"He's going to come out of this with his head held high," Collins said. "Somewhere down the line, he's going to be back on top."
As for the effect of the play-calling shuffle on the offense, Collins wasn't quite so willing to offer a bold prediction.
"We'll see," Collins said. "Change is good sometimes. Sometimes it's not."