Live With QB's Flaws

How bad has it gotten for the Giants? Two words have seeped into talk radio chatter: Jesse Palmer. Here is a two-word response: Forget it.

Palmer is a nice guy with some nice tools, but Kerry Collins remains the quarterback of the present and near future, preferably with an extension in hand before he becomes a contractual lame duck next season. The Giants have won with him and can do so again.

Consistently give him time to throw a football, and he can do so as well as anyone in the world. There are some things about Collins everyone must learn to live with, though.

One is that he is streaky.

After six games in 2000, he had six TD passes and seven interceptions. He had 21 and eight in his next 12 games, including playoffs. After 11 games last year, he had 10 TD passes and 13 interceptions. He had 13 and two after that.

After eight games this season, several newspapers, including this one, named him the Giants' first-half MVP. Since then he has one TD and five interceptions.

Here is another fact of life with Collins: He has extreme confidence in his arm, and it is both a blessing and a curse. He does not disagree with coach Jim Fassel that he has made mistakes in part because he has tried to do too much to rescue a floundering team.

In Monday's loss to the Buccaneers, in which Collins threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, he needlessly flung a ball into the end zone toward Ike Hilliard, and Dwight Smith picked it off.

It was an awful night, one that reminded his doubters of the four interceptions he threw the last time he played in Tampa - in Super Bowl XXXV.

Yet, as he has since he arrived in 1999, Collins insisted that his confidence is unshaken, and that taking chances is part of his game, one that he is reluctant to change.

"I think the things I'm trying to do aren't completely out of the realm of possibility," he said yesterday. "I don't think I'm completely playing outside of myself. Certainly, you look back and question things and say, 'Maybe that wasn't the best decision.' But I'm trying to stay aggressive.

"We've struggled scoring points at times, so that might have led to a couple of things I've tried to force in there, but you never want to play scared. I'm going to try to maintain that aggressiveness. That's how I make a lot of the throws I make."

Fassel has worked with Collins on reducing mistakes, but he believes the pressure Collins has faced and hits he has taken behind a young, makeshift line have disrupted his internal clock. It is difficult to work on resetting that clock in practice, because quarterbacks are not hit during the week.

"There are drills you can do where he throws the ball and shuffles around people, but it's not the same," Fassel said.

So Collins is going to have to work through the problem on game days, and as long as he stays healthy he, not Jesse Palmer, will get the call for the five that remain - and beyond.

Slump? What Slump?

Is Amani Toomer in a slump, or has he just made a few very visible mistakes?

"I wouldn't say I'm in a slump," he said. "A slump would be I'm not getting open. I'm getting covered. That's not the case. I'm getting open. I'm in the right position. I'm just not finishing off plays."

Toomer is on pace for 68 receptions, which would be his fewest since he became a starter in 1999. In part, he has been a victim of the difficulty the Giants have had getting the ball downfield, but he also has dropped passes, at least four that likely would have been touchdowns.

Against the Bucs, he failed to catch a pass from Kerry Collins that should have been an 80-yard scoring play. "I looked at the replay and it looked a lot easier than when I was actually running," he said.

Earlier, he missed a chance in the end zone on a more difficult play. Just as he caught the ball, Dwight Smith dislodged it with a brutal hit. Toomer did not see Smith coming and didn't brace for the blow.

"Then him throwing a forearm at my helmet, it kind of took the ball out of my hands," Toomer said. Jim Fassel asked the league to review the incident.

"The guy made a good play," Toomer said. "It wasn't a legal play, but it was a good play."