Giants 10, Eagles 7: Postseason's Greetings

All over New Jersey and New York today, there are Giants sitting in their living rooms, kicking back in their recliners, pointing their remote controls at the television, and watching other guys play football. They are relaxed and confident, having accomplished Saturday afternoon what seemed improbable, almost impossible, only a few weeks ago.

The Giants are in the playoffs.

They are in because they followed the advice on the towels given to the 78,782 fans in attendance - win and in - and upended the rival Eagles, 10-7, in overtime. And they are in because they staged a few more of the miracles and wonders that have come to define this season's rebirth.

They needed the guy who fumbled the ball away three times already to forget his mistakes and get ready for overtime, where those slippery hands would be on the ball for six straight running plays.

They needed the guy who already had missed one field goal, bounced a PAT off the upright, and shanked more than one kickoff to forget his ineptitude and kick a game-winning field goal in overtime.

They needed an offense that moved at will against one of the best defenses in the NFL - 461 yards, 75 plays, and nearly 40 minutes of possession time - but could score only once, to forget those two turnovers in the red zone, the two touchdowns called back by holding penalties, the seven fumbles, and the four total turnovers and rebound for an extra session.

They needed a defense that had been playing hero for three-plus quarters to rescue them one more time, to turn around the odds that favor the coin-toss winner in overtime, to grab an interception on a third-down play and end Philly's initial overtime possession, and give the ball to the offense to win.

They needed a coach with the seeming shelf life of J-Lo's fiancée to wring out one more victory.

But if there is one truth about these 2002 Giants, it is this: Nothing comes easily. And on Saturday evening, when the sun had set over a sold-out stadium, this truth also was evident: The "hard" is what made it so great.

When Tiki Barber erased those three fumbles and gave himself a 203-yard rushing day with 29 rushing yards in overtime, when he put the ball on the ground one more time in the extra period on a bad Kerry Collins handoff but quickly covered it up, the hard left him with "a good inner feeling."

When kicker Matt Bryant watched his 39-yard boot with 5:10 elapsed in overtime sail through the uprights, the hard sent him running in circles of celebration and welcoming the congratulations of teammates.

When the Giants lost consecutive games to Houston and Tennessee to drop to 6-6 and read epitaphs for both this team and its coach Jim Fassel, this incredibly hard four-game winning streak to end the season tasted like sweet vindication. The win sets up a playoff date with Tampa Bay, Green Bay, or San Francisco.

"We said it a while ago - it's over when we say it's over and that is what this team showed," Fassel said.

Said Collins: "That was the craziest game I've ever played."

The Giants beat up on the Eagles everywhere but the scoreboard, yet needed Philadelphia Pro Bowler David Akers to miss a 35-yard field goal with 1:12 to go in regulation. In a four-year career, Akers had missed only once from a shorter distance, but still he did the Giants this favor. The Giants got 276 yards of total offense from Barber, another 98 receiving yards from Jeremy Shockey, and 73 more from Amani Toomer. They had 23 first downs to Philadelphia's nine.

But by the end of regulation, they had only seven points. The early-season turnover demon returned, and New York appeared buried again.

"You do think that, that no matter how hard we try, whatever we do, this is not going to work for us today," Fassel said. "But that hasn't been our attitude all year long. No matter what people say, no matter the circumstances, whatever happens, we come back and fight. It sounds so simple, but it's harder to do than you think. We did it. That's why we're standing here going to the playoffs."

Said Barber: "Four weeks ago, we were dead and buried, five feet under. We didn't let them throw that extra foot of dirt on us and we came back."

And so the second season begins, and the Giants are sizzling. Like that unlikely NCAA tournament Cinderella, the Giants plan to hold on to their last-day invitation as long as they can.

"Why not?" Barber said. "Why not us?" Does anyone want to play the Giants? "Look out because here we come," Toomer said. "We're a tough team to beat right now. I'm excited. I feel like this is just a beginning. We have the opportunity to do a lot better."

Remember the Toomer who kicked over garbage cans after that loss to expansion Houston? He's the veteran who couldn't shake the distaste of this last playoff-empty off-season, the one who so desperately wanted to re-stage a dramatic Super Bowl run of two years ago rather than last year's futility, the one who elevated himself to superstar status while fellow Giants receivers dropped all around him. He knew how good this team could be, and it killed him that they were close to squandering the talent.

Saturday gave them new life.

"We understand what the opportunities are in the playoffs - anybody can win," cornerback Jason Sehorn said. "Now there are only six teams fighting for our [NFC] side of the football. We only have to be better than five of them, and we only have to play one next week. That gives you hope. This is a different football team than it was six weeks ago."

This is a playoff team.
Dec. 29,02