In the final seconds of a marathon overtime game against the Redskins on Sunday afternoon, the Giants exorcised their week-old demons. One by one the ghosts vanished, allowing a team that was reeling after only two weeks of the season to stand tall today.
The Giants own a 2-1 record and reclaimed their grip on the NFC East lead thanks to Matt Bryant's 29-yard field goal in overtime, ending an almost too-ridiculous-to-predict 24-21 victory over the Redskins.
Anyone who watched the Giants a week earlier remembers how they wasted a furious fourth-quarter comeback against Dallas by allowing a game-tying field goal in the final four seconds of regulation and a game-winning kick in overtime. That this game seemed to follow precisely the same script - Washington scored 18 second-half points, including a field goal to tie it with 13 seconds to go - seemed unfairly cruel.
"I couldn't imagine if we had lost again," veteran defensive end Michael Strahan said. "Tiki [Barber] said he probably would have cried like a baby. I would have been right beside him."
By the end of the thrill ride that has become a day of football with these Giants, the players seemed to be missing the elation that would customarily accompany such a victory. Relief was their primary emotion, borne of escaping the same painful fate for two straight weeks and the ability to head into their bye week with the restoration of some sanity.
"A game like this shows that things don't always have to go against you," cornerback Will Allen said. "We just don't want people to turn their televisions off. This is reality TV."
Allen took his turn mugging for the camera with his first interception of the season, actually his first since the opening game of the 2002 season. But during this evening of programming, Allen had to wait in line behind plenty of other stars, all of whom needed their shot at redemption.
There was coach Jim Fassel, under so much scrutiny this week for his mismanagement of the clock at the end of the Dallas game, gratefully heading back north with an overtime victory.
"This team showed guts," Fassel said.
There was Bryant, who buried his team against Dallas by failing to keep his final kickoff inbounds, thus negating what should have been a game-winning kick. Bryant didn't have to kick off after this one - his 29-yarder ended the game - but he did have to deal with the adversity of a low snap eerily similar to one in the fourth quarter that led to a missed 37-yard attempt. Need we mention the bad snap that ended the Giants' season last year in San Francisco?
For this kick, Bryant even received an unprecedented pre-kick shout from Fassel to "just put it through," and some vital help from holder Jeff Feagles, who not only corralled the snap but had counseled Bryant to forget about the previous miss.
"I was really looking forward to this week," Bryant said. "When you fall off the saddle, you want to ride again as soon as possible. That's what it's all about."
The Giants' offense, unable to generate anything in the second half despite dominating the first for a 21-3 lead, found its redemption in overtime. Quarterback Kerry Collins (24-for-39, 276 yards, three TDs) was in complete control despite beginning the drive at his 6-yard line after a penalty on the kickoff return.
Collins escaped the depths of his woeful field position with a pass to Amani Toomer (four catches, 81 yards, TD) and a few big runs by Barber (28 carries, 126 yards). Collins crossed midfield with a sideline completion to tight end Jeremy Shockey and reached field goal range with a 27-yard pass and run to fullback Jim Finn, a design that looked brilliant because Finn was wide open.
"That was a great call [by Fassel]," Collins said. "Those are the calls that if you make them at the right time, they can do that for you."
Finn, lined up at the right end, salivated as he saw Redskins' linebacker LaVar Arrington bite towards a play-action fake to Barber in the middle of the line. The Giants aborted the same play earlier because of a false start, but remained confident that Finn would be open. He was, grabbing the short pass and racing down the right sideline until finally pushed out of bounds at the 20.
"That was the deciding play of the game," Collins said.
"I'm just trying to run as fast as I can to make the kick easier for Matt," the former Bergen Catholic High School standout said.
Barber took care of that with his ensuing 11-yard run, and Bryant kicked his way to a happy train ride home for everyone. Barber exploded for yardage despite taking every carry in the game other than a reverse by Ike Hilliard (seven catches, 58 yards, two TDs) and two Collins' rushes. He also caught four passes and picked up as many blitzes and chipping assignments as the game demanded.
"I'm just happy Tiki has that reserve that other guys don't have," Strahan said. "He was phenomenal."
Barber, too, had his ghosts to kill. All week he faced questions about his penchant for fumbling. He had another one Sunday, but recovered it. "We had a resolve, a heart, and a desire to win it," Barber said.
Like the rest of his team, redemption was his.
"Last week we found a way to lose it. This week we found a way to win it," Collins said.