For three weeks the Giants have lived with a number of problems, and the credit they deserve, while minimal, is that they have been able to achieve a 2-1 record.
But the problems will persist and, if they remain uncorrected, will result in a team with an unlimited upside dropping to a level that would be a major waste of talent.
Those problems include inexplicable defensive letdowns in the second half, an offensive line that is more patch quilt than cohesive and the obvious comatose state of their best defensive lineman, end Michael Strahan.
In three games, the Giants have allowed 1,214 yards of total net offense. That's more than 400 per game, which is unacceptable for a defense expected to be among the NFC's elite. More dangerous is the fact that the meltdowns occur in the second half, which only serve to squander leads. That's what happened Sunday against the Redskins, a game the Giants won, 24-21, in overtime.
That was the good news. The bad news is they held a 21-3 lead into the third quarter against Patrick Ramsey, a quarterback in his second season who was active for only nine games last year and started five of them.
The offensive line, it would seem, is new every time you turn around. The last combination included two rookie starters - right guard David Diehl and center Wayne Lucier -- along with the center formerly known as Chris Bober at right tackle. The two "veterans" on the line are left tackle Luke Petitgout, in his fifth season; and left guard Rich Seubert, in his second year as a starter and third in the league.
"I think we worked it out pretty well," said Petitgout, who missed the previous game and was replaced by undrafted rookie Jeff Roehl. "The running game worked pretty well and Kerry (quarterback Kerry Collins) was sacked only once."
Amazingly, that's true. Running back Tiki Barber carried the ball 28 times and gained 126 yards, and Collins was left virtually untouched so that he was able to connect on 24 of 39 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
Then there's Strahan, the multi-million-dollar man who in the last two seasons has 33.5 sacks. This season, in three games, he has one, to go along with his six total tackles.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--TE Jeremy Shockey, who admitted to still suffering some pain from his cracked rib when he inhales deeply, caught six passes for 92 yards and is apparently improving as a blocker. His long gain vs. the Redskins, a 27-yarder, was a one-handed catch.
--RT Chris Bober, in his fourth season, was moved to tackle to replace the failed Ian Allen, who held the job all summer and through the season opener. He joined the Giants as a tackle but has played only center, and his rust is showing. He had two false start penalties vs. the Redskins as well as a holding call.
--RB Tiki Barber has gained 313 yards in 67 carries for the season, including a 126-yard, 28-carry performance Sunday. "I told them in the showers after the game that I might have only three or four years left to take this beating, so they better get the most of me now."
--WR Ike Hilliard, who missed the final nine games of the 2002 season, has returned with a flurry. He caught seven passes for 58 yards Sunday to move his totals to 17 catches for 175 yards for the season, and his pair of 5-yard touchdown catches brought his season scoring total to three.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was just praying we won the coin toss. I couldn't help but remember last week's game and the one (wild-card game)] in San Francisco." -- Giants CB Will Allen on getting the ball for the offense to start the OT period; the possession became a nine-play drive that ended with a 29-yard Matt Bryant field goal with 4:15 elapsed in overtime.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- QB Kerry Collins completed 24 of 39 passes for 276 yards and three TDs, two of them to WR Ike Hilliard. The O-line, new and patched up as it is, still protected him almost perfectly (not a happy note for the Redskins' defense) and allowed only one sack. Hilliard, WR Amani Toomer and TE Jeremy Shockey all figured prominently. Hilliard had seven catches for 58 yards; Shockey six for 92; Toomer four for 81 and a 54-yard TD catch.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The surprise was that the relatively inexperienced line provided enough blocking for RB Tiki Barber to gain 126 yards in 28 carries. It was a line that was bolstered by the return of LT Luke Petitgout (who missed the previous game with back spasms, as well as the second half of the opener).
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Once again the defensive letdown in the second half almost cost the Giants a game. This time is was the deep crossing patterns Redskins coach Steve Spurrier loves so well. Laveranues Coles caught seven passes for 102 yards and both Rod Gardner and Darnerien McCants contributed key receptions down the stretch. Despite sacking QB Patrick Ramsey three times, there was precious little pressure on him in the latter stages of the game that never should have been as close as it was. CB Will Allen had the game's only interception, taking it away from the dangerous Coles.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- After some early bursts by RB Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts, the Redskins had trouble running the ball. They gained only 124 yards rushing, but 94 of them came in the first half. The Giants' LBs, mainly Mike Barrow and Dhani Jones, and deep backs Omar Stoutmire, Shaun Williams, Will Peterson and Will Allen, were active in stopping the running game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kicker Matt Bryant made the game-winner, a 29-yarder in OT, and missed a 34-yarder late in the fourth quarter that might have iced it earlier. But he has been putting his kickoffs deep, often into the end zone, and that is a marked improvement. Brian Mitchell had four kickoff returns for 65 yards, Delvin Joyce one for 33. Punter Jeff Feagles is turning into the unit's MVP, putting seven punts downfield for an average of 43.6 yards and allowing only two to be returned (for 30 yards).
COACHING: C -- Coach Jim Fassel finally deigned to speak to his kicker, Matt Bryant, before he went out for what proved to be the winning field goal. "Just put it through," he said. Had he done that the week before, instead of relaying his instructions to special teams coach Bruce Read, Bryant might not have been told (by Read) to "kick if left," and it might not have gone out at the Dallas 1-yard line setting up their final 11-second drive to tie the game. Defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn continues to walk a tightrope, slipping into zone coverage late in the game to prevent a bomb but allowing several medium-range completions. He is also rushing only three on sure pass situations despite the Giants having proven they can't get to the quarterback that way.