Giants open by handling Rams

"It's always good to win your first game," Head Coach Jim Fassel said, before emphasizing the importance of knocking off the Rams. "This is a team - a lot more than us - that's talked about as going to the Super Bowl."

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The reasons New York began the 2003 campaign with a 23-13 victory over St. Louis were numerous.

You could start with the defense, which sacked Kurt Warner six times and harassed him into four turnovers and a concussion. The 'D' scored the club's first points of the season as well. Or you could focus on the special teams, which got solid performances in all aspects. The offense? OK, it might not have been the high-flying aerial attack we all expected, but Tiki Barber, Kerry Collins and Co. did more than enough to lead New York over the hated Rams in front of 78,666 fans at Giants Stadium on a glorious late-summer afternoon.

"It's always good to win your first game," Head Coach Jim Fassel said, before emphasizing the importance of knocking off the Rams. "This is a team - a lot more than us - that's talked about as going to the Super Bowl."

The Giants didn't exactly look Super Bowl ready, but they more than held their own against - as Fassel said - a team that many think is among the NFL's elite.

"That's the team that people are talking about going to the Super Bowl," Brian Mitchell said. "We've played the Rams pretty damn well defensively for three straight games," Fassel said.

Offensively, New York didn't exactly shoot from the starting gate, as Collins was sacked for an eight-yard loss on the game's first play. But he (14-of-26, 202 yards) and his troops (336 total yards) rebounded and did more than enough to get the job done.

"Our offense controlled the ball enough, especially in the fourth quarter when we needed to get a first down and we did it," said Michael Strahan, who had one of the team's six sacks. "Our offense is definitely good enough to win a bunch of games for us."

So is the defense, which limited the powerful Rams to less than five yards per play. The Rams' 315 passing yards appear less impressive when considering Warner threw 54 times.

New York cashed in two big plays en route to a 10-6 halftime lead. Kenny Holmes fell on a Warner fumble in the end zone for seven points. "Turnovers are something we focused on a lot this off-season," Shaun Williams said. "That's been a goal of ours."

It didn't take long to accomplish that one. Rookie William Joseph, who almost didn't even suit up, came swooping up the middle and hit Warner. The Rams QB dropped the ball and Holmes, who was already on the ground in the end zone, gathered it in for New York's first points of '03. "Awesome," Fassel said. "You've got to be able to do things like that."

The second big play came when Collins connected with Amani Toomer for a 77-yard gain down the left sideline, setting up a 24-yard Matt Bryant field goal.

"We thought that we could double move their corners, and I got the coverage I was looking for," Collins said. "The protection held up and I was able to get it out there to him."

After another Bryant field goal, Mitchell's first touchdown since the 2000 season extended New York to a two-TD lead. His one-yard run capped a six-play march that featured 38 yards on three carries by Barber.

"They brought me in and gave me an opportunity to run the ball down low," Mitchell said. "I came around and saw a little crease and I was able to power through 'cause the line gave me some room to get in there. It came down to will and I just had to fight to get in there."

"It's great to have a veteran guy in there like that," Barber said. "That play was not blocked well (rookie Visanthe Shiancoe missed his block) so he had to power his way into the end zone." Mitchell said he wasn't surprised to get the call because the Giants had been working on that play all week during practice and because Barber had just ripped off two big runs.

"Tiki played his butt off today," Collins said. "I think he is as good a back as there is in the league."

Seconds later, Omar Stoutmire broke a similar drought, recording his first interception since 1999.

"It was a play that they run frequently and going into the game I said that was one play I was going to gamble on," he said. "Fortunately I read my keys and it paid off for me." "He's made plays for us the whole time he's been here," Fassel said.

The Giants got just enough plays to go around, holding off the Rams' comeback attempt in the process, as they kicked off a season on a winning note for the first time since the 2000 Super Bowl campaign "The feeling today is a good feeling because we are happy we won but we expected to win," Strahan said. "When you expect to win, the feeling is good but it is not one of satisfaction. I think we realize that we have a long way to go until we can be satisfied."

Fast Facts

* With the victory, New York is 45-29-5 all-time on opening day, including 5-2 under Jim Fassel.

* The swarming Giants defense sacked Kurt Warner six times, forced the Rams QB to lose three fumbles, intercepted him once and left him in a New York hospital after the game with a concussion.

* Kenny Holmes scored New York's first points of the season, recovering a fumble in the Rams end zone.

* Tiki Barber averaged 6.1 yards per carry, gaining 146 yards on 24 totes. * Omar Stoutmire had a game-high 10 tackles and an INT.

* The Rams still lead the all-time series, 25-11, but New York has beaten their NFC rivals two times in a row.

* Next up is a Monday Night Football date with Bill Parcells and the Cowboys.

Game Quotes "That is a good football team we beat today, so I'm proud of [our] effort and proud of [our] toughness." - Giants Coach Jim Fassel "They did everything right today and we did everything wrong." - Rams RB Marshall Faulk

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