Collins, Passing Game Taking Off

QB has chance to tie NFL record with 6th consecutive 300 yard game.

It wasn't long ago that the idea of a Giants quarterback establishing an NFL passing record would have been fodder for a David Letterman monologue.

After all, from 1993 to 1999, the Giants went 96 regular season games - plus three playoff games - without a quarterback throwing for 300 yards in a game. When Kerry Collins broke the streak with a 341-yard performance against the Jets on Dec. 5, 1999, the second-longest 300-yard regular-season drought by another team was a mere 36 games.

But on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, Collins can tie an NFL record shared by Steve Young and Kurt Warner by throwing for more than 300 yards in his sixth consecutive game.

Collins started the streak last Dec. 23, when he passed for 338 yards against Seattle. He ended the 2001 season by throwing for 303 yards at Philadelphia and 383 yards against Green Bay. This season, he has thrown for 342 yards versus San Francisco and 307 yards at St. Louis.

The fact that Collins might claim a part of a record that is shared by two illustrious quarterbacks indicates not only how much progress he has made in his four seasons with the Giants, but how much the team's aerial attack has advanced.

"I really think we have come a long way in the passing game since the day that I got here," Collins said today. "And a lot goes into that: the guys that are playing, the offense itself, my maturation, the maturation of other people that are playing just really well right now like Ike (Hilliard), Amani (Toomer) and Tiki (Barber), who are really good players. Then you add a guy like (Jeremy) Shockey and all of the sudden we have some guys that can go down the field and make some plays."

For head coach Jim Fassel, the gaudy numbers that Collins is posting are evidence that his tireless quest to improve the team's passing attack is paying dividends.

"We've really progressed," Fassel said. "It's been a while coming. My thought process since I've been here has been I want to get our passing game to be a threat to people. There were too many years when they didn't worry about it. The only thing we could do was run, and they knew that. It's developed and developed and developed. They could load eight in the box and we still couldn't pass."

The Giants have traditionally been a team that relies first and foremost on their rushing attack. Last season, when the Giants finished tied for eighth in the NFL in passing yardage and 15th in rushing yard, marked the first time since 1984 their ranking through the air was higher than that on the ground. From 1994 to `98, the Giants ranked, 27th, 30th, 30th, 28th and 28th, respectively, in the NFL in passing yardage.

"I think that we have more of the mindset of attacking downfield than we did when I first got here," Collins said. "The Giants have always been a run-first kind of team. We want to continue to have the strongest running game that we can because, at some point, you are going to have to run the ball in this league. I was really encouraged with the way the guys ran the ball the other night (103 yards at St. Louis). But, from a passing game standpoint, we just worked on it. But, you've got to have the players. And I think we have the players to do it."

That wasn't always the case. During the days when the Giants struggled to pass the ball, they had Dave Brown and Danny Kanell playing quarterback. They had their moments, but neither approached Collins' skill level.

The Giants best receiver was Chris Calloway, a reliable and durable pro who did not exactly strike fear into the heart of opposing defenses.

Now, as Collins notes, the Giants have an array of outstanding receivers. If a defense focuses on one, somebody else is going to be open.

"Defenses have to pick what they want to do," said split end Amani Toomer. "Every play they're going to have to switch it up. If every play they try to take me out, then you have Jeremy and Ike, you have (Ron) Dixon, you have Tiki coming out of the backfield. There's so much we have to work with. You have to wait your turn in this offense. Soon you're going to be the one they're singling up, soon your number is going to get called. You better take advantage of your opportunities, because you have so much competition for the ball."

Perhaps the most important reason behind the team's improved passing attack is the triggerman. Collins, now in his third season as the full-time starter, is comfortable running this offense and with his teammates. He is throwing the ball more accurately than he has at any time in his eight-year NFL career.

Last week against the Rams, Collins completed 22 of 26 passes for a team-record 84.6 completion percentage.

"He's been throwing it as well as I've seen him since I've been here," offensive coordinator Sean Payton said. "It's something we want to build on. His efficiency last week was outstanding. As far as some of the throws he was making, he played as well as I've seen him play in the whole time that I've been here. He has great anticipation, his balance and his transition is something that's exciting. We'll keep it going."

The most frequent beneficiary of Collins' accuracy has been Toomer, who leads the Giants with 13 receptions for 226 yards.

"Anytime someone on offense has individual success, we're all going to take a little bit out of it," Toomer said. "I congratulated Kerry on being Player of the Week, and he talked about how it was everybody - it was the line, it was the receivers. We didn't drop any balls. He put the ball right on the spot, the offensive did its job. It's really a team effort when somebody can get an individual award."

Collins has completed 70.4 percent of his passes this season (50-71), which Toomer said is indicative of how sharp his passes have been.

"Sometimes I'll read the coverage, and I know if I'm getting the ball before the snap," Toomer said. "It seems like every time I think I'm getting the ball, it's coming. It's just a matter of me getting open and catching it. The ball's right there."

Collins isn't one to dwell on records - he pointed out that the Giants have lost three of the five games in his current streak. His coaches don't look at his impressive statistics, but how he conducts and prepares himself.

"Kerry has worked so hard in the offseason to come a long way," Fassel said. "Kerry is coachable. He listens. He does what you ask him to do."

"I think the most important thing for him is the win," Payton said. "He really is an unselfish player. And not all of them in this league are like him that way. He wants to win. And if that means we run more than we throw, or we throw more than we run, he doesn't care. He wants to move the ball, score points and try to give ourselves a chance to win."

With some of the best passing of his career, Collins is doing just that.
Sept 19, 02