This Time, Kerry Saves the Day

Kerry Collins remembers a time when he dreaded the responsibility he was handed yesterday, when the notion of lugging a lagging football team on his shoulders used to terrify him. His head would spin.

His knees would quake.

His stomach would turn.

He feels differently now, which is the only reason the Giants wake up this morning with their season intact. A quarterback has the power to do a lot of things. Sometimes, that means turning chaos into calm, rescuing his teammates and his coaches from themselves.

Forcing them to win a game they seem perfectly inclined to lose.

"Hey," Collins said, "this is the reason you play the position in the first place. This is when a quarterback earns his money, when you either make the plays or you don't, when you either win the game or you don't."

If that's so, then Collins won't mind what lies ahead of him across the next seven weeks, which promise to be littered with banana peels and bad comedy.

He won't mind having to rise above the chronic silliness and the awful sloppiness, as he did against the Vikings, engineering the 10-play, 80-yard drive that ultimately delivered the Giants a 27-20 victory over one of the league's truly wretched teams.

"When Kerry plays the way he did on that drive," Amani Toomer said, "he can make up for a lot of other people's mistakes."

There were bundles of them in this game. The kicking unit turned every short field goal and PAT into pure slapstick. The defense couldn't figure out Michael Bennett all day and nearly allowed him to shoo them out of the playoff chase with one inexcusable 78-yard dash.

That gave the Vikings a 20-19 lead. Suddenly, the Metrodome sounded like Game 7 of the World Series. Suddenly, the amazing news from Philadelphia that kept flashing on the scoreboard - the Eagles were getting throttled by the Colts - looked like just another tease in a season stuffed with them.

Until Collins said, "enough," proving that one hot arm attached to one confident quarterback can be enough.

There was a quick pass to Tiki Barber, for nine yards. A break two downs later, when Minnesota's Corey Chavois was flagged for interference. A 15-yarder to Ron Dixon that dragged the Giants over midfield.

And then, the kind of throw that has long allowed Giant fans to dream about just how good Collins could really be. A personal foul shoved the Giants back 15 yards, making it first-and-25 with the Vikings preparing to pounce. Somehow, Collins threaded a pea downfield to Dixon, who made a splendid catch of what may well have been as perfect a pass as Collins has ever thrown.

"Soon as I let it go," Collins said. "I knew that was a damn good ball."

Soon as the ball settled in Dixon's arms, you could see the Vikings whither a little bit, buckle a little bit, die a little bit.

Quarterbacks have the power to do that, too.

Five plays later, Barber scampered in from the eight, the Giants had the lead and their season back, and Collins had managed to reverse a game's worth of angst in five minutes and 53 seconds.

"Every time we went back to the huddle, you could see the look in Kerry's eyes," Jeremy Shockey said. "You can feed off that."

For now, for better or for worse, that's the Giants' best plan of attack, their only hope. Fassel has a week of 18-hour days waiting for him between now and the Redskins Sunday if he hopes to plug the leaks.

All of his follow-me-into-Hell bluster won't mean a thing if he can't remove the floppy clown shoes from his special teams once and for all, if he can't solve the aggravating mistakes that seem to stalk his team. Collins can only carry the coach so far.

The Eagles gave the Giants a gift yesterday, a reason to believe they really can squeeze something special out of this season. They sit a game behind in the NFC East, a batch of winnable games in front of them. There are moments when it seems they really could run the table.

And others when you wonder if their five wins came in a lottery.

"Hey, we're 5-4, and that sure looks and feels a lot better than 4-5," Collins said. "We could be in a lot worse shape."

Because of him, they are not.

This time, he was enough. This time.