Collins feels the heat

But Big Blue should pass blame around

Kerry Collins' mind was still swirling, but at least his shoulder was intact. It was a bad day to be a New York quarterback, on either side of the continent. Unlike that guy named Vinny, Collins survived yesterday's game with nary a scratch, unless you count his bruised psyche.

He'll be vilified back home for this one, no doubt about it. Bring in Jesse Palmer! Sure, you have to double-check the Giants' depth chart to find the backup quarterback's name - Palmer's no Chad Pennington - but does it matter? Any quarterback worth his playbook would've found his way out of this mess.

Except it wasn't Collins' fault, not completely. He threw the pass - a bad, horrifically appalling pass - that had everyone spewing, but it was his coach who gave the green light, and his coordinator who called the play. Collins wanted to take a knee, thought he was to take a knee. Can he help it if his coach went schizo on him?

"The whole offense is to blame for the game, OK?" barked Jim Fassel, sputtering and sweating at the microphone, vowing to never again trust his players in a similar situation. The stunning 21-7 loss to the Cardinals had Fassel promising all sorts of things he'll likely take back today, once the sting wears off.

As Fassel stood there, mad as a cut snake, Dave McGinnis, coach of the Cardinals, was doing laps in the Sun Devil Stadium stands, high-fiving fans like a politician. He said he was "really, really happy, extremely happy" and even promised the local media "pizza tomorrow." The New York media will be fed more confused explanations for a running game that barely hisses, and an offensive attack that can't scribble on the same page.

"We have some work to do," admitted receiver Amani Toomer.

There were other, equally ridiculous moments for the Giants - a rash of penalties, a fake punt that wasn't - but it was the interception in the dying moments of the first half that hung over their heads like an anvil. With 14 seconds left, after Bill Gramatica's 42-yard field goal attempt went wide right, the Giants agreed to take a knee. But as Collins strode to the huddle, his headset buzzed: "77W Deep Out."

Collins zipped into the shotgun, shouting out the change. Fassel said Collins' pass was designed to go over the middle. Collins said he was searching for Tiki Barber in the flat, trying to high-low somebody on the sideline. If they weren't on the same frequency hours later, no wonder Justin Lucas - a backup safety, no less - read the play as if it had been scripted on his morning cereal box.

Collins telegraphed his intentions - "Kerry was looking at (Barber) the whole way," Lucas said - and with one dive into the orange pylon at the goal line, there went Collins' stomach.

"I do what I'm told," Collins said. "Above anything I threw it. I've got to be smarter than that."

How big was it? "It was huge," Collins admitted.

Still, it was only 7-7, and those were the (giggle) Cardinals on the other side of the ball. Surely they'd find a way to mess this one up, same as always. Their two best offensive personnel were injured and Jake Plummer long ago stopped being the sort of quarterback who could yank his team out of the abyss.

Collins had an entire half at his fingertips, waiting to be tamed. Instead, he was skittish, sporadic, ineffective - and those are all his words. Big Blue fans likely will choose other, less kind descriptions for his many overthrows. Three field goals last week against Seattle, one touchdown against the Cardinals. What happens when the Giants go against a real defense, like the Eagles'?

"It seemed like we never got into a rhythm today for some reason," Collins said, after completing 19-of-36 for 199 yards.

There had been an odd experiment before kickoff on the sizzling turf, someone placing Collins' cobalt blue jersey next to Plummer's bright white shirt and sticking thermometers in the sleeves of both. Within seconds, the temperature gauge on Collins' was 12 degrees hotter than Plummer's. There are all sorts of regulations here regarding the sun - when to water the yard, the level of tint allowed on car windows, hats for preschoolers - but nothing that stabilizes a quarterback's well-being.

It must've been like sticking his head in an oven for three hours, but Collins insisted the heat - game-time temperature was 90 degrees - wasn't that bad. The Giants even scored on the first drive, Collins dinking and dunking his team down the field. A 12-yard completion to Toomer, a couple more to Jeremy Shockey and soon Barber was bouncing off left tackle for a 6-yard TD.

Plummer, meanwhile, was sacked on the third play of the game, then spent the rest of the afternoon freelancing from the pocket. He took a knee on the final play, after yanking his team up by its cuffs. Twelve degrees of separation equal a Giant loss of staggering proportions.