All aboard Air Kerry

They didn't get the help they needed Sunday to clinch a playoff spot, but that doesn't matter to the Giants. They know they have destiny in their hands and played that way in a 30-10 walloping of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Giants Stadium.

"I'm going to make sure we keep that stinger," an emphatic linebacker Jessie Armstead said after the Giants increased their NFC East-leading record to 10-4. "Coach [Jim] Fassel is going to stay on top of things, and there are a lot of guys around here he can depend on to make sure things keep going smooth."

They went about as smooth as they could Sunday against a Pittsburgh team that was looking to stay alive in the AFC race. The Giants dominated throughout, and only some red-zone troubles kept them from building a huge lead early on.

Still they remain one win away from clinching not only a playoff berth but also the NFC East. And the Giants are in the unbelievable position of knowing that the team behind them in the division, 10-5 Philadelphia, has clinched a playoff spot while they haven't.

Victories by the Eagles, who have just one game left, St. Louis, and New Orleans kept the Giants from clinching the playoff spot. If they continue to play the way they have the past three weeks, however, all of that will be remedied Sunday night in Dallas.

The Giants would clinch a playoff spot next weekend even if they fall to Dallas provided Detroit loses to the Jets.

Coming off their emotional 9-7 victory over Washington last week, the Giants showed no sign of a letdown.

"Last week was a big, big deal for us, that kind of got us over the hump," said defensive tackle Keith Hamilton. "We took a lot of confidence out of that game."

That showed Sunday as the Giants won their third straight since Fassel made his guarantee after the terrible loss to Detroit. Omar Stoutmire returned the opening kickoff 47 yards, setting up the first of Brad Daluiso's three field goals. That got the crowd quickly into the game, something Fassel had hoped to accomplish with his comments during the week.

"Players get on a roll, coaches don't get on a roll," Fassel said when asked if he, as the head coach, was on a roll with some of the stunts he has pulled in recent weeks. "I'm proud of the way my guys have rallied. They are the ones on the roll."

"All you have to do is get hot at the right time," added Hamilton. "And that's what we've done. We can run the ball and stop the run, and if you can do that you will be in every game."

True, the Giants usually can run the ball with Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne. But Sunday they knew that would be a huge task against the strong interior defense of the Steelers.

So they came out throwing, and continued that mode of attack throughout. So while Barber was limited to 22 yards and Dayne to 20, Kerry Collins exploded for 333 yards through the air, tossing two touchdown passes.

"We knew a guy like [linebacker Levon] Kirkland, who is 270 pounds, would be tough to move inside," said offensive coordinator Sean Payton. "So we tried to get him in coverage one-on-one on Pete [Mitchell]. That was the kind of thing we wanted to do. We wanted to get Pete and Ike [Hilliard] in open spaces and throw them the ball."

"To go into a game like this and think we're just going to pound it up the middle all day, we'd just be kidding ourselves," said Collins, who for the first time surpassed 3,000 yards passing in a season.

"We knew coming into this week we were going to throw the ball, and we needed to throw it effectively."

"They have a tough defense to run against, and we thought we'd be able to soften them up with the pass," said Barber, who had a 3-yard touchdown run among his modest yardage. "They never did soften up, but Kerry was going so well we just kept throwing it."

And his receivers kept catching it. Amani Toomer grabbed nine for 136 yards and scored the final touchdown on a great keep-the-toes-in reception in the end zone. Hilliard caught five for 90 yards, including an exceptional TD catch on which he juggled the ball, clutched it, then spun past two defenders into the end zone. He also turned a short pass into a 59-yard gain on the final play of the third quarter. Collins' passing helped the Giants convert nine of their 14 third-down situations.

"I thought we had a great game plan going in," added tackle Lomas Brown, part of an offensive line that kept the Steeler rush out of Collins' face all day. "Kerry was throwing it, the guys were catching it and were very aggressive making yardage after the catch. This was one of the most complete games we had as far as taking advantage of what they were doing on defense. The game plan kind of helped us with the pass protection, too."

Daluiso's first two field goals had the Giants up, 6-0, in the second quarter before they marched 60 yards on nine plays to Barber's TD. Hilliard, coming back from two games lost to a bruised sternum and lung, made his TD grab on a third-and-six from the Steeler 9.

"I almost dropped it," Hilliard said of Collins' quick toss which came in the face of a blitz with no one in the backfield to pick it up. "But that actually helped me, because by having to go back and get it on the second try it helped me get away from the defensive backs."

Hilliard wasn't about to let the ball slip away on that play, and from the way the Giants played Sunday they look like they aren't about to let the playoffs slip through their hands, either.
December 11, 2000