Collins wins, Peyton places

In a league with Brett Favre, Drew Bledsoe and Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins often flies beneath the quarterback radar screen. But he can still cast a shadow, and yesterday, Manning played in it.

In the Giants' 44-27 victory at the RCA Dome, Collins completed 23 of 29 attempts for 366 yards, a career-high four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 158.3 passer rating, the highest rating a passer can achieve. In a game that propelled the Giants into the final NFC playoff spot with one game remaining, Collins was at his best.

His previous-highest passer rating was 134.1, when he was 17-of-29 for 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 41-28 victory over the Jets on Dec. 5, 1999.

"Kerry was sharp as a tack out there," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "We needed a win, and we grabbed control of our own destiny, and Kerry really responded."

Manning, meanwhile, was 30-for-46 on the day, but many of his completions and his three touchdown passes came when the game was out of reach.

Collins -- who has had his receivers plucked from the depth chart by injury -- dismantled the Colts defense despite having limited choices again: Ike Hilliard, once Collins' favorite target, has been lost for the season and Ron Dixon, slowly becoming a playmaker, is out with a knee injury.

But somehow the Giants have made it work down the stretch, thanks to Collins -- who has the ability to split coverages with his strong arm, but also has shown the maturity and patience to take the shorter completions.

Hey, he isn't flashy, but he has been to a Super Bowl.

"Maybe it's my lack of touchdown passes that hurts me," Collins said. "I don't know about that stuff. Maybe I'm not flashy, but I'm workmanlike. That's just my style. If people take notice of me, they take notice. I don't promote myself."

He will leave that to his teammates.

"It was so much fun to watch Kerry and Amani (Toomer) work," cornerback Jason Sehorn said. "They have success in practice against us, which translated well today. It's good to see them pick another team apart just as they do to us in practice."

At the start of the second half, Collins' 82-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass to Toomer put the Giants up 17-3 and sparked the rout. Collins connected with Charles Stackhouse on an 18-yard touchdown in the third quarter as the Giants' lead ballooned to 23-3. In the fourth quarter, Collins hooked up with Toomer again, completing TD passes of 21 and 27 yards.

Toomer, it's clear, is now Collins' favorite target.

"We work well together and have a great relationship," Toomer said. "Hopefully, we can keep it going through the playoffs. We like to compete and keep each other fresh."

Collins, who wasn't sacked, deflected some of the credit to his offensive line.

"This is a combination of hard work and practicing well and good protection from the line against a good pass-rushing defense," he said.

A defense neutralized by Collins.

"You give up two 100-yard receivers (Toomer and Jeremy Shockey) and long touchdown passes and you can't expect to win," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We really didn't get them stopped in the second half. You certainly don't want that to happen in a game like this. You're playing at home, and we just didn't get it done."
Dec. 23,02