Jessie won't scare Kerry

Jessie Armstead and Kerry Collins will be eyeball-to-eyeball today, and there was a time when Collins would have blinked.

Not now. Not today.

Armstead shows up at Giants Stadium today a Giant in Redskin clothing. He will be a trash-talking machine, playing in a rage, inspiring his new teammates and infusing them with emotion, looking to rattle Collins.

"We can't let him get to us," Giants TE Dan Campbell said. "We can't be getting in extracurricular activities out there on the field with him, because that's one of the things that he does; he's gonna try to shake us up a little bit. There's no doubt he'll play his best game of the year. But we can't let him dictate what we do. We have to just do what we do."

Armstead will be a howling tornado trying to cut a swath of vindication through his old house.

"You can't print hardly anything he would say out there on the field," Campbell said. "He likes to get after you physically, he likes to get after you mentally. . . . We just gotta realize he's not on our team anymore. He's on the other side of the ball now, and we have to play accordingly."

It all starts with Kerry Collins.

Collins has survived hell. He almost let alcohol destroy him. He threw four interceptions in Super Bowl XXXV. He won't have Ike Hilliard or Ron Dixon or Tim Carter today. It won't worry him. Because he is at peace with himself, as a person and as a player.

"I know that it's not life or death," Collins said. "I know that at the end of the day if we don't win this week that there's gonna be another game next week and they're not gonna take me in the square and hang me, you know what I'm saying?"

Collins is asked when he reached that sweet spot.

"Super Bowl," he said. "You lose the Super Bowl and you throw four picks, I mean . . . the sun actually came up the next day. And it's allowed me to enjoy it a lot more. And it's allowed me to enjoy the guys a lot more, too."

When Collins first came here, he walked on eggshells. Now he'll scramble those eggs.

"You know what? I'm not worried about myself," Collins said. "I know I'm not gonna screw up, and I know I'm doing things the right way."

Do you think you're appreciated here? Can you take this team back to the Super Bowl?

"Sure; I've done it one time, I can do it again," Collins said. "Not that I did it all by myself, but . . . I'll say this: I give us a chance to win every Sunday. I believe that."

He sure could use a running game today. But when the Giants need him to make a throw, he will have to make it.

"Obviously, I think it puts more of a responsibility on who the big-time players are on this team, who we need to be big-time players," Collins said.

He knows who he is and where he's going. "I'm much better at 30 than I was at 25," Collins said.

His beautiful wife Brooke helps. "She just cares that I come home in one piece after a football game," Collins said. "It's a calming influence, in a way."

Where would you rank yourself among NFL quarterbacks? "Moving towards the top tier."

How close are you? "I don't know . . . pretty close. I'm gettin' there."

Michael Strahan: "It's definitely Kerry Collins' team."

You have no doubt he can take you guys back to the Super Bowl? "Oh, no doubt whatsoever. Only a few teams have really great quarterbacks, and we're fortunate enough to have one."

Collins isn't great. But you bet Armstead wished he had him on his side now.

"Obviously there's stories about this game," Collins said, "but there's gonna be a 60-minute game being played [today], and we gotta try and win the thing."

Collins has lined up and played every single Sunday for the last 21/2 years.

"This team believes in him," Campbell said. "We know, if we keep people off of him, give him time to throw, he's gonna make the throws, and we will win the game."

Nov. 17,02