Hurt Collins watches Giants get spanked

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins has a sprained left ankle that has required him to wear a boot, miss a week of practice and sit out last night's 45-7 loss to the Saints. But all week, Collins continued to attend meetings and watch film, and he remained interested in the game plan.

"He handles things well. That's one of the things I really respect about Kerry," coach Jim Fassel said. "He's acting the same. He wants to be supportive of his teammates."

He also wants to be on the field. After 67 consecutive starts dating to Nov. 21, 1999, Collins was in an unfamiliar place at the Superdome: the sideline. This is his first serious injury in five seasons with the Giants.

"I'm driving my teammates crazy," Collins said before the game. "They're seeing a side of me that they've never seen before."

Backup quarterback Jesse Palmer, in his third season, started for the first time in his NFL career in place of Collins. Palmer put up decent numbers (15-26, 140 yards, 1 TD, 0 interceptions), but he was overmatched from the start. Though the two have lockers next to each other, Collins spent part of last week trying to find balance between aiding Palmer's preparation and not interfering with it.

"There is kind of a fine line there," Collins said. "You don't want to tell him too much because we all have our own individual styles with how we play the game and how we approach the game. I've given him little tidbits here and there, but Jesse is a smart guy. There are just some things that you just have to do by yourself, and this is one of them, really."

Collins was injured the previous week on a play that wasn't a play at all. It was officially recorded as "no play" because of a delay-of-game penalty on the Giants. But that snafu by the officiating crew -- no one heard a whistle, which would have stopped play -- did not stop Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith from landing on Collins from behind and pulling him to the ground after he had released the ball.

The result was an injury to a quarterback who had been practically indestructible. Before last night, Collins hadn't missed a game because of injury since the 1997 season.

Collins described Smith's hit as "pretty much useless" and "unnecessary" on Thursday. That was as close as the easygoing Collins might get to publicly complaining, but this was not his first injury that was preventable. He suffered a broken jaw early in his career, when he was with the Carolina Panthers, on a questionable hit by linebacker Bill Romanowski during the preseason. Romanowski was fined $20,000 for the blow.

This past week was "tough" and "strange" on him, Collins said. He admitted to being bored but said he never would have taken Fassel up on his offer to not attend practice.

"I couldn't imagine hanging around in (the locker room)," Collins said. "You talk about being bored. I mean, I want to be out there and see how things are going with the offense, see if there is anything I can help out with. I've been able to stand without too much pain, so I definitely want to be out there."

Collins was only the latest starter, particularly on offense, to get caught up in the injury plague that has befallen the Giants. Only four offensive players -- running back Tiki Barber, wide receiver Amani Toomer and linemen Chris Bober and David Diehl -- have started every game this season.

Had the Giants, whose season has been over for perhaps a month, been in contention for a playoff berth, Collins said he might be approaching his injury slightly differently.

"But, having said that, I don't know if there would have been any way that I could have played anyway (last night)," he said. "It is a situation now where obviously I want to get back out there, but I also want to be smart. Like I said, we will just see what happens."

Fassel has said Collins has "a reasonable chance" to play Sunday at Dallas. But his ankle will have to feel a whole lot better for that to happen.

Collins said his ankle has been treated with "a lot of ice, electric stimulation (and) rest. It is hard trying to not do anything too strenuous."

Collins has felt progress in his recovery but, with only two games remaining in the regular season, he might not play again until 2004. Collins said he planned to try to test the ankle, perhaps Wednesday, to see if it is realistic to try to play against the Cowboys.

"It's one thing to just kind of do what I'm doing now and walk around and stuff like that," he said. "Obviously, it is another thing to take drops and have to escape and that sort of thing."

Fassel will be particularly cautious with Collins because of the inexperienced offensive line the Giants now have. Besides Bober, every lineman who started last night is getting the first playing time of his NFL career this season.

"I'm not going to put him out there if he's limited in his movement," Fassel said. "If he can defend himself, I'll put him out there. But if he can't defend himself, then I'm not going to put him out there."