Collins battered, as Giants freeze

Dead-ball hit adds injury to insult

Beaten and Battered: QB Kerry Collins gets knocked on his back and is forced to leave game with ankle injury, all because ref blew whistle that few heard.

It's been a long, long time since Kerry Collins was forced to leave a game with an injury, but that's only part of why he was so mad when he was being carted off the field yesterday. He was "mad at everything, the way the season is going, the way the game was going." And when he got to the trainer's room he would get even angrier when he learned the injury should never have happened at all.

In a scenario that was probably inevitable, given the Giants' miserable luck this season, Collins was hurt several seconds after an official whistled the play dead because the play clock had expired. Apparently the only player or official who heard the back judge blow the whistle was Giants left tackle Ian Allen. And Allen's hesitation allowed Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith to reach Collins for the hit that may have ended the quarterback's year.

"I mean, if you are going to blow it dead, blow it dead," Collins said after the Giants' 20-7 loss to the Washington Redskins at the Meadowlands. "Those guys make mistakes, but we can avoid things like this if we're just more forceful about it and stop it when it needs to be stopped."

It all happened with 8:59 left in the third quarter inside a cold and mostly empty Giants Stadium. Collins dropped back and threw a pass to Amani Toomer over the middle, but unbeknownst to everyone but back judge Greg Steed - a late replacement when two officials couldn't get to the game because of the snowstorm - Collins didn't get the play off in time.

Steed apparently blew his whistle, but none of the other officials heard it. Allen said he heard it and "kind of delayed," giving Smith enough room to fly by.

"I think part of it was the wind is blowing out at that end and the sound is blowing away from all of us," said referee Walt Coleman, the other late replacement. "None of us heard the whistle or anything, so we basically worked the play."

Smith ended up grabbing Collins from behind and, as he fell backward, Collins' leg ended up under Smith's body. Collins said he thought he felt something "pop." Giants running back Tiki Barber said he heard Collins scream.

X-rays on Collins' leg and ankle were negative and he will undergo an MRI sometime today. The diagnosis of a high ankle sprain isn't the worst news, but Jim Fassel cautioned that "high ankle sprains take some time."

"Judging by how it feels right now, I don't think I would be out for the rest of the year," said Collins, who was on crutches after the game. "But we're going to be smart about it, too. We'll wait and see how it feels (today) with the MRI and everything. But fortunately it's not broken or anything."

At the very least, Collins' string of 67 consecutive starts appears to be over. Backup Jesse Palmer, who was 7-of-11 passing for 83 yards in relief yesterday, figures to make his first career start Sunday night in New Orleans. And he's certainly prepared for the beating he figures to take, considering he was sacked five times on the four series he played.

Collins was only sacked once before his injury, but he was in the midst of a miserable afternoon, going just 5-of-14 through the air for 62 yards and tossing his 16th interception. He had very little time to operate behind an offensive line that featured Allen at left tackle, Jeff Hatch at right tackle and rookie Scott Peters at left guard. Not surprisingly, the Giants (4-9) managed only one touchdown - a 5-yard run by Dorsey Levens - for the fifth consecutive game.

The Redskins (5-8) weren't much more explosive, but they were at least more efficient, gaining 150 yards on the ground and controlling the ball for more than 37 minutes. Throw in two touchdown passes from quarterback Tim Hasselbeck (13-for-19, 154 yards) and the game was pretty much a rout.

The Giants, though, don't expect much different these days. They've lost five straight games for the first time since 1994. And they've lost six straight at home since their win on opening day. It's no wonder there were about 50,000 no-shows and fewer than 10,000 people left in the stands by the end of the game.

"We haven't given them much to be excited about," said Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. "We should be thankful for all the people who did show up."

The Giants have one game left at Giants Stadium, on Dec. 28 against Carolina. And with the Giants mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and the possibility of no Collins - who hasn't missed a game because of injury since he broke his jaw in the 1997 preseason - it's hard to imagine any fans will show up at all.