Standing tall among Giants

Kerry Collins can feel the changes within himself, the way he walks into the locker room and meeting rooms with head held high, the way he maintains composure regardless of the outcome of a football game.

With that level of comfort, how could the veteran quarterback not rub off on others?

"He takes things on an even keel, good and bad. That's important," running back Tiki Barber said. "He's a leader and as the leader on offense, if he gets upset it can trickle down. It's important for him to stay positive in any situation and he's been doing that."

Collins is coming off his worst game of the season last week in Arizona. Two more interceptions, including the ill-advised pass into the flat just before halftime that was returned for a touchdown, give him six for the year against just one touchdown. He admitted being "out of synch," of "having a bad day," and being just plain "disappointed" at the performance.

But around his teammates, Collins looks like the same guy.

"I haven't ever seen him with his head hanging down," rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey said. "That's important because he's the leader. You don't want to see your leader be down."

Through the peak and valley ride that is life in the NFL, Collins has used his eight years experience to teach himself plenty more than seven-step drops and reading defenses. He learned lessons of composure and the valuable role it plays in a season's success. This off-season, after the Giants extended his initial four-year contract another two years, the added security augmented his leadership role. As much as ever, the 2-2 Giants need him to use that influence against Dallas this week.

"Really it's all the time, not just situational," Collins said. "Lose a game, what are you going to do? Sit around and mope about it for a week or do something about it?

"I think I'm more aware of what kind of attitude to exude now. Whereas in the past I'd come walking in kind of down, now I'm upbeat and positive. Nobody sees anything from me, any sort of being down or anything like that. It's all positive, it's all moving forward."

Collins is eager to move his offense forward into the end zone. The Giants average 342.3 yards a game but have scored just three offensive touchdowns and nine field goals.

"People probably see us as having the ability to move the ball but certainly not one that can score a lot of points," Collins said.

Collins ranks first in the NFC in passing yards (1,130), second in average gain per completion (7.79 yards), third in completions (92), fifth in attempts (145), and fifth in completion percentage (63.4). But he is 16th in touchdowns (one), and 13th in both interceptions (six), and 12th in passer rating (72.5).

Without doubt, however, Collins retains the faith of both his teammates and his bosses. "We win on his shoulders and lose on his shoulders," cornerback Jason Sehorn said.

"He'll be fine," coach Jim Fassel said. "He stays even keeled."

Unlike the situation with the Jets, where Vinny Testaverde was replaced by Chad Pennington, Collins' position is secure.

"That is a nice feeling to have. It's definitely nice to know," Collins said. "It gets tricky when you get in that situation. I've been there and it's not fun.

"I know Vinny a little, Chad a little, I don't know what their relationship is all about, but there can be some friction obviously. Vinny is a class guy and he'll handle it well."
Oct. 5,02