It's Graham for Collins, but for How Long?

Kent Graham is back at quarterback, the Kerry Collins era in recess. That is the new pecking order at Giants Stadium, good for at least the first half of Monday night's game with the Dallas Cowboys.

The quarterback quandary expected for so long to bedevil the Giants finally enveloped Coach Jim Fassel's team Wednesday. The choice at quarterback is not causing a split in the team; the Giants' defensive players would not care if Fran Tarkenton came back at quarterback as long as the offense scored.

But the door was left open, with tumult on the opposite side waiting to rumble through it, should Graham fail to resurrect the moribund offense. At some point, perhaps as early as Monday, that would mean returning the job to Collins.

Teams swapping their most important job back and forth like an old, unwanted, lime-green leisure suit usually do not win many games. But Fassel said he made the decision to return the starting assignment to Graham, who missed last Sunday's game against Arizona with a concussion, because he felt Graham was more familiar with the offense than Collins. And because Fassel has an uncommon confidence in Graham, a confidence not shared by many in the Giants' hierarchy.

Fassel even acknowledged that his decision might not be popular, even within his own organization. "That's not to say that everybody was exactly on the same page," he said of those whose opinion he sought.

But with a 2-3 record and the Cowboys coming to town for a "Monday Night Football" matchup -- a national forum where the Giants are 0-7 against Dallas -- Fassel was especially unwilling to let Collins continue to learn on the job. Fassel said of Collins, "He's going to be outstanding." But the coach added that in Collins's one-game tryout last Sunday he saw evidence that Collins was still "feeling his way."

"Kent's been here two years and one year playing under this system in Arizona," Fassel said, referring to 1996 when Graham and Fassel were with the Cardinals. "Kerry has been here one training camp and one game. Kerry has done an outstanding job, and I can continue to further develop him. But right now, Kent is farther ahead when it comes to giving us an opportunity to win this football game."

Left unsaid was how long the development of Collins, who played in last Sunday's defeat like someone starting his first football game in months, has been postponed and what effect the potential upheaval at quarterback might have on the rebuilding of the offense.

Fassel said he was aware that a revolving door at quarterback could be deleterious to his team's growth and its psyche. "I don't want to keep playing the hot-hand shuffle," he said. "I want to get a guy in there, and I want to leave him there because he's having success."

Fassel told Graham and Collins of his decision this morning in separate meetings. "Jim said he believed in me and that I'm the starter," Graham said after today's practice, when he took the majority, but not all, of the repetitions with the first-string offense. "He said, 'Don't be looking over your shoulder.' Obviously I have to do better than I did against Philadelphia."

Graham threw three interceptions against the Eagles before Fassel replaced him with Collins.

Collins said he was neither discouraged nor completely surprised.

"I figured that with the way the offense is struggling, that he might be more comfortable going with someone who is more familiar with the offense," Collins said. Collins, by design, did take more snaps with the first-team offense than usual.

There could be meaning in that, too. Fassel said he wants Collins to remain as ready as possible.