Even-Keeled Kerry Steadies the Ship

The Giants were choking. They were in overtime again . . . and again, they were choking.

No Squib-gate this time - just a Category 5 collapse that nearly revealed them as frauds and ripped the hearts out of their Big Blue chests.

It was 21-3 at the half and 21-21 at the end of regulation and the Kardiac Giants, their lack of killer-instinct absolutely killing them, were on their way to finding yet another maddening, infuriating way to lose.

But Kerry Collins wouldn't let them.

This wasn't exactly The Drive once fashioned by John Elway, but the Giants, 24-21 overtime survivors, were able to leave the field celebrating. Finally, all these years after Dave Brown and Danny Kanell and Kent Graham, they have a quarterback who can stand poised and calm and forget the noise, turmoil and adversity swirling around him.

In his team's most desperate hour - after all the dumb penalties, after Patrick Ramsey had magically turned into Sonny Jurgensen, after Matt Bryant missed a 37-yard field goal that could have stopped the bleeding with 4:10 left, Collins (24-39, 276 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) found a way to spike the nightmare.

"We're gonna win this thing," Jim Fassel announced on the sidelines, before Johnnie Harris committed an above-the-waist block that forced Collins to start from his six.

"Earlier in my career I probably would have gotten a little out of whack, but now, I just take each play as it comes," Collins said. "I was trying to stay in the moment and just see the field and try and make good decisions. That ultimately, for a quarterback, is what's gonna allow you to win the game."

During that game-winning drive Collins suddenly became Joe Montana, pointing to the stands and telling his teammates to look at John Candy.

Someone asked the quarterback if he says anything in the huddle and right then Collins said, with a grin: "No, I'll just try and smile. I'm not much for a lot of talking, a lot of, ‘Hey we need to do this and do that.' You just look at 'em, and smile and wink a little bit, and I think that says a lot."

It says volumes.

"He keeps an even keel, and it trickles down to us," said Tiki Barber. "We take on his personality. He's supremely confident, and likewise the rest of the guys in the huddle."

So Barber, the warrior with the ailing ankle, gained five yards. Then Collins found Amani Toomer for nine yards. Then Barber found another 14. "That play he threw to me to get that first first down?" Toomer said. "That was all just because his mind was working faster than the defense was. I was uncovered, and he just got me the ball real quick."

On the sidelines, Mike Barrow was saying to himself: "Go ahead, go ahead Big Blue, move those chains. C'mon, close this thing out!"

On the field, Collins was having the time of his life. "How can it not be fun?" he said afterward. "You're alive! You can't feel any more alive than you are at that point." Collins hit Jeremy Shockey for 14 yards. Then Fassel, one tough hombre and one good coach, called a play no one could have expected: Collins rolled right and hit fullback Jim Finn, wide open, for 27 yards down the right side.

Soon Bryant was trotting out for the decisive 29-yard field goal. "Put it through," Fassel told him.

Bryant didn't squib this one; he put it through. The kicker can thank Collins for the opportunity.

"He's someone you can believe in," Barber said, "because he has a complete understanding of our team and what it takes to motivate us and get us to drive down the field. I wouldn't trade him for anyone."

Collins piloted the Giants to that 21-3 halftime lead with the kind of efficiency and leadership that GM Ernie Accorsi and Fassel had envisioned when they risked their jobs on him.

Collins-to-Ike Hilliard, 5-yard TD. Collins-to-Amani Toomer, 54-yard TD. Collins-to-Hilliard, 5-yard TD.

"I think we got a bunch of guys who believe in each other," Collins said.

Believe this: Everyone believes in the quarterback.
Sept. 22,03