Giants' Collins New Starting QB

In move anticipated since he signed a nearly $17 million free agent contract in February, Kerry Collins is replacing Kent Graham as the New York Giants' starting quarterback.

``I'm putting Kerry in as the starting quarterback and that's not an experiment, either,'' coach Jim Fassel said. ``He is now the starting quarterback, period.''

The change comes with the Giants (5-5) riding a two-game losing streak and needing more from their inept offense in the final six games if they want to make the playoffs.

Collins, who started a game in October because Graham was sidelined with a concussion, played well after Graham sustained another concussion in a 23-13 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday. He hit 13 of 21 passes for 221 yards as offense showed signs of life in the showdown for first place in the NFC East.

The performance also had flaws. Collins threw an interception and fumbled three times, losing two, including one which was returned 42 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Marco Coleman.

In making the change, Fassel noted that Graham lately was not making some routine plays needed of a quarterback. It had nothing to do with the concussion, the coach added.

``I'm just real frustrated right now, just frustrated we weren't able to get it done as an offense,'' said Graham, who replaced Danny Kanell as the Giants starter at this point last year and won five of six starts. ``Obviously, I'm the one who has to take the heat for that. I am going to regroup and come back.''

Being a starter caps a comeback of sorts for Collins. The fifth pick overall in the 1995 NFL draft, he had a miserable 1998. He was cut by Carolina after saying his heart wasn't in the game anymore. He was picked up by New Orleans, but didn't play well there.

Off the field, Collins was arrested on a driving under the influence charge when Saints returned to North Carolina.

The Giants took a gamble signing him in the offseason but Fassel was determined to bring him along slowly, a move that upset some team officials.

``I've put everything in the past out of my mind and really worked hard on the field and, more importantly, off the field,'' Collins said Monday. ``Because of that, I think the things on the field are taking care of themselves.''

Even with the lack of a running game with halfback Gary Brown out for the year with a knee injury, Collins thinks the Giants' offense is on the verge of turning things around.

``I think some things happened yesterday,'' said Collins, who squandered the Giants' last chance fumbling a snap at the Redskins' 27. ``If we don't fumble the snap, I was very confident that we would go in and score. It could have been that game we needed to go over the edge.''

The upside to Collins is that he seems a little more sure of himself on the field. He has great arm strength and he does not hesitate in trying to make big plays.

In recent weeks, Graham, who has a year left on a contract that pays him $1.1 million annually, seemingly has been more concerned about not making mistakes than in making plays.

``I'm going to play my game,'' said Collins, who got a $5 million signing bonus. ``I'm going to play fast and be excited. I'm going to try to take the big plays when they are there and make good decisions.''

Bad decisions and mistakes have hurt the Giants the last two weeks. They have turned the ball over eight times in that span, including seven times inside their opponent's territory.

Collins' next start will come on Sunday against Arizona, the same team he started against in October in a 14-3 loss. He hit 24 of 38 passes for 202 yards and an interception in a game in which the offense was called for delay of game three times.

Collins and Fassel insist he better prepared.

``At this point, we're in crunch time,'' said Collins, who got the Panthers within a game of the Super Bowl in 1996. ``People have to be leaders and being quarterback of this team, I have to be a leader.''