New York Giants Inside Slant

Tiki Barber gained 71 yards in 20 carries, often making more than what existed by second effort and abrupt changes of direction.


How about saying the New York Giants aren't as good as they were supposed to be, that their high expectations of summer are doomed to vanish in the cold reality of the fall and winter?

Does that sound about right?

Well, after Sunday's non-performance against the Miami Dolphins, it certainly doesn't sound too far off, regardless of your feelings.

The defense, which had been exploited to the tune of 403 yards per game through the first three games, rose up and stifled superstar running back Ricky Williams. He was held to 39 yards on 22 carries.

Jay Fiedler, the so-so quarterback, wasn't able to pick up the slack, either, completing only 14 of 26 passes for 167 yards and nary a single touchdown.

So what happened? How did Miami win, 23-10, improving its record to 3-1 while dropping the Giants to 2-2? Simple. They let the Giants self-destruct. They capitalized on four turnovers, three of them interceptions thrown by the usually reliable Kerry Collins. They took advantage of defensive lapses -- you know, the kind that allow a 68-yard touchdown run by wideout James McKnight on a double-reverse, and the kind that opened the game with a 33-yard screen pass to tight end Randy McMichael -- it didn't result in points but it sure did open up the defense.

Add to all this an inability of the offense to generate anything consistent, and finally throw in the disaster that occurred right at the end of the first half, when kicker Matt Bryant was successful on a 43-yard field goal (the Giants' final points of the game) and then collapsed on the ground with a severely pulled right hamstring. The Giants are 2-2, the defense is growing feisty, the offense is puzzling in how it is being used, coach Jim Fassel is becoming testy and things appear to be teetering on the brink of "one of those seasons."

"We're 2-2, and that means we can be 14-2," said defensive end Michael Strahan. "But you guys are going to go sell your newspapers by being critical."

Said Fassel: "We're 2-2. That means we missed our first quarter [the first four games] goal by one game. Just one game. I told them I didn't want to see anybody hang his head over that." Next week it's off to New England, then home against Philadelphia, then on the road to Minnesota. By the time that run is over, Strahan might be able to say: "Hey, so we're 2-5. That means we can be 11-5, you know?"


-- PK Matt Bryant pulled his right hamstring and had to leave the game shortly before the first half ended. Punter Jeff Feagles filled in, attempted one FG (from 29 yards out) and missed it. "I think I rushed it a little," Feagles said. "The main objective as a punter is to get the ball away as fast as possible. I just reacted instinctively. It was unfortunate. I really, really wanted to kick that field goal."

-- DT Keith Hamilton played the full game and recorded four tackles and three quarterback pressures. This is notable only because he didn't play in the team's previous game (vs. Washington) with a pulled hamstring, and he was instrumental in shutting down Miami RB Ricky Williams (39 yards, 22 carries).

-- QB Kerry Collins was quick to accept responsibility for the defeat. "My fault," he said. "I threw the [three] interceptions trying to put the ball in tight spots."

-- TE Jeremy Shockey had 11 receptions for 110 yards, one more reception and one more yard than his three-game totals leading up to the game. He also drew a 15-yard penalty for taunting.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We did get him to catch 10 balls [it was 11]. I think that's pretty good. You don't think it was enough? Maybe next week we'll see if he can get 20. Is that all right?" -- Giants' coach Jim Fassel, irritated at a question concerning the late start to Shockey's game since he had only four receptions in the first half.



PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- QB Kerry Collins threw three interceptions while also completing 31 of 43 passes for 276 yards. He often missed wide open targets as well, including one play in which WR Amani Toomer could have been stopped only by the end zone had the ball been thrown anywhere near him. TE Jeremy Shockey had his best game of the season (11 catches, 110 yards) and twice ran over prospective tacklers. WR Ike Hilliard caught eight (for 73 yards) but also committed a costly fumble that resulted in a Miami FG that made the score 13-7 in favor of the Dolphins with 1:29 remaining in the first half.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Tiki Barber gained 71 yards in 20 carries, often making more than what existed by second effort and abrupt changes of direction. But the other running backs were no factor -- Delvin Joyce carried three times for six yards, Dorsey Levens was active but did not play and Ron Dayne, for the fourth consecutive week, was on the Game Inactive list. The run blocking was not as good as it was for the passing game (Collins was sacked only once) but overall the line, still in a state of flux, did acceptably well.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- The defense got to Miami's Jay Fiedler twice for sacks, recorded seven pressures and seemed to have him under control except when the situation was a critical third and long. Miami made eight of its 15 first downs in the air (and two by penalty), and converted third down opportunities 44 percent of the time (seven of 16). RDE Kenny Holmes over-ran plays three times, once allowing a sideline pass to be completed over his head for a 25-yard gain.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The first assignment was to stop Ricky Williams, and that was accomplished with flying colors. The superstar RB gained just 39 yards in 22 carries and was not a factor despite a 1-yard fourth quarter TD. Mistakes hurt the Giants, including a 68-yard double reverse run for a TD by WR James McKnight in which four Giants (CB Will Allen twice) had chances at tackling him but simply missed. But with numbers limited to the RBs, the defense allowed 54 yards in 25 carries between Williams and FB Rob Konrad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Dolphins didn't break open any long returns of punts or kickoffs. Jeff Feagles punted four times for a 39.5-ayrd average (and a 30.5 net). But PK Matt Bryant, who made a 43-yard FG and in the process pulled his right hamstring, might be lost for a while. Feagles filled in for one FG attempt and missed a 29-yarder.

COACHING: C -- The defense was better, but there were gaps in execution. On reverses, there is always a built-in support defender, one who doesn't leave his lane and take the fake. On the 68-yarder that McKnight returned for a TD, there was no such support. Coach Jim Fassel's determination to give RB Tiki Barber some down time apparently came at a decidedly wrong time, taking him out of the game in favor of the seldom-used Delvin Joyce in the fourth quarter with the game still within reach.

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