Giants safety Johnnie Harris, who is going to be a key cog in New York's defense this year, came galloping toward Bruce and delivered a big-time hit that sent one of the Rams' playmakers flying. St. Louis never recovered. Sure Bruce caught eight balls for 120 yards, but he never got into the end zone, where he had so often in the past, during the Rams' glory days.
Harris said he could have gone for the pick, but didn't want to gamble early in the game. Of course not. Not when you know your big hit is going to lift your team the way it did. "That really set the tempo," Harris said. "That was very important. When our defense gets excited, it's hard to stop us. We try to out-aggressive our opponents."
"Big hits are always an emotion-builder," Shaun Williams said. "That set the tempo for the whole game."
There was no tempo at all for St. Louis. For all of their other-worldly talent, they could never get untracked. The Rams left their leader, Warner, behind in a New York hospital suffering from a "mild to moderate" concussion. They hit him early and often; high and low. The one constant? They hit him hard.
Same goes for Marshall Faulk. The Giants' game-plan was to limit perhaps the game's best back to 75 yards or less. No contest. The NFL MVP in 2000 and runner-up in 2001 gained a measly 28 yards on nine carries.
"When you throw the ball 60 times and you have Marshall Faulk in the backfield you're not going to win many games," Brian Mitchell said. Mitchell only needed one carry to get into the end zone. Faulk could have had 100 and it seemingly wouldn't have mattered.
The last time we saw this New York defense it was collapsing in a major way in San Francisco, just a few days into 2003. Not a chance this time around. The Rams threatened, down by only 10 points and driving into New York territory. The Giants 24-yard line was as close as they'd get, Keith Hamilton batting away Warner's desperation fourth-and-eight toss with 2:18 to play. That was the second time New York had stuffed St. Louis on fourth down in the final period.
"We didn't give up the lead like we did in the past," Kenny Holmes said.
"The two fourth quarter, fourth-down stops were huge," Michael Strahan said. "That was really the game. We focused on this in the off-season.
Especially after the way last season finished. We don't want to lose games in the fourth quarter. "There were some guys who were saying 'comeback,' and I was like 'don't bring up that word, don't even use that word.' It is not in our vocabulary, just go out and play. And it worked."
So did just about everything Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn tried against St. Louis. He took a large part of the blame for the blown lead in San Fran. He wasn't aggressive enough; he didn't change things up enough, etc. Not this time.
After the game, GM Ernie Accorsi waited in the locker room for a chance to congratulate Lynn, who was speaking with a group of reporters. No need to explain blown leads this time around. Lynn handed his players an aggressive game-plan and they took it from there.
"The pressure on the quarterback was paramount," Jim Fassel said. "The things our defense did was an aggressive-style. That's what I want." They knocked Warner around to the tune of six sacks and an INT. They forced the Rams' big gun to fumble six times, with New York recovering three of them, including the game-turning play - Holmes' TD.
"I thought our front four guys gave a great pass rush today," Omar Stoutmire said.
Stoutmire dug deep into his bag of tricks as well, picking off an errant Warner pass to snuff out yet another futile St. Louis drive.
"I just read the QB and got a good break on the ball," Stoutmire said. "It's definitely good - I didn't get any (INTs) last year. It's good to get off to a good start."
"He made a big play and came through for us," Lynn said.
Stoutmire was hardly the only one. Rookie William Joseph barely got a uniform for the game. By the end of the first quarter, he had forced the fumble that Holmes scored on.
Micheal Barrow had two sacks and a forced fumble. Michael Strahan had a sack and a forced fumble. Ralph Brown, in his first game as New York's nickel back, was all over the field, posting nine hits and knocking away a pass. Lance Legree, another key reserve, drilled Warner for a sack and forced another fumble himself.
The Giants defensive line rotation worked like a charm. All eight D-linemen played; all eight D-linemen contributed.
Lynn wanted two takeaways against St. Louis. He got four.
"Once you're calling things and they're successful, you stick with them," he said. "I'm excited about the results." He's not alone.