They play defense for Fassel

In the wake of Sunday's devastating loss to the Titans, Giants quarterback Kerry Collins and defensive end Michael Strahan offered their support of coach Jim Fassel yesterday. Both players -- veterans who signed contract extensions shortly before the start of the regular season -- said they want Fassel to return in 2003 for his seventh season.

"I don't think it's very apparent to us right now exactly what his situation is or how much slack in the line he's got left," Collins said. "We know that, obviously, he's in a tough spot right now, but we'll do everything we can to win the next four games, I know that.

"We'll fight for him and we'll give it everything we've got for this team and for him. I think the guys like him. I think the guys play for him and respect him, and it's a matter of getting the job done in a way we haven't been doing in the last couple of weeks."

Said Strahan: "I don't think Coach Fassel is sitting there hoping he has a job next year. I don't see why he wouldn't have a job next year."

Strahan mentioned the team's devastating injury situation while defending Fassel.

"I don't want to see another coach come in here and I don't see why we should," Strahan said. "I think Coach Fassel has done a great job in the six years that he's been here. You can only control so much. For me, I know I don't want to see another coach in here. I don't think it would be fair to (Fassel)."

Sunday's 32-29 overtime loss dropped the Giants to 6-6 and followed their 16-14 defeat to the expansion Texans. Two weeks ago, the Giants were in prime contention for a playoff berth -- especially with the Eagles losing QB Donovan McNabb for the season. Now the Giants are a considerable postseason long shot.

Against the Titans, Fassel opted to go for a two-point conversion after the Giants took a 26-14 lead with 14:19 left. It failed. That decision, along with the Titans' surge in the final minutes, when the Giants defense looked disorganized and confused, have increased the scrutiny from every angle.

Under contract through 2004, Fassel insisted several times yesterday that he pays no attention "to things I cannot control." He also answered affirmatively to a query about whether management understands how the injury situation has affected his team. The Giants have nine players on injured reserve and have lost key players on an almost weekly basis since Oct. 13 when defensive tackle Keith Hamilton was lost for the season.

Of the Giants management, particularly co-owner Wellington Mara and the Mara family, Fassel said: "I'm not going to go into personal conversations or anything else, but they're astute football people."

The Giants have four games remaining. Fassel said he does not worry that his fate is tied to the outcomes of those games.

"I don't think about it," he said. "I'm not thinking about what's going to happen if we win four or lose four. I don't sit around thinking about that. I'm busy enough doing other things. I don't worry about it. I coach this football team. I guess by taking the job, you're always on the hot seat then, huh? (From) the day I took it."

Collins and Strahan, two of the team leaders, said the players need to take their share of the blame for the team's shortcomings.

"I don't think we've played real well for him," Collins said. "I don't think he should be the one who takes all the blame for this. I know this: To a man, everybody in (the locker room) knows we can all play better, and we certainly would like to finish this season right. We know what kind of business this is, and winning is the bottom line. We can do a better job of helping him with that."

Said Strahan: "I think we're all playing for our own jobs. I don't think we're playing for Coach Fassel's job. Our team plays hard. We've just made some mistakes. We've lost games. We've had tons of guys who aren't playing (because of injury). For what it is, we're doing the best we can."

Reacting to those sentiments, Fassel said, "That's very nice. We'll see, huh? I want to win a lot of football games for them, too."

The Giants visit Washington (5-7) on Sunday in a game that just might be decided by effort and intensity as much as anything. The Redskins are out of the playoff picture.

"I'd be probably really concerned about us if we weren't even competitive," Fassel said. "And that's not the case. As long as that team will keep fighting and playing and preparing, that's how I'm going to approach it.

"We've got four games left and we can win four games. You can make fun of me for saying that, I don't care. You can do whatever you want. But my approach is going to be to coach this team hard, tough, the same way I've coached them and get them ready to play."