You think it's easy to find a kicker in the middle of the season?
It isn't, but if any team has designed the methodology, it must be the New York Giants. This isn't exactly old news to them; to the contrary, they have done it frequently, as well as finding new long-snappers, too.
The latest new kicker is Brett Conway, who spent the summer trying to unseat Mike Vanderjagt in Indianapolis (fat chance there) and then went home to the Washington, D.C. area to contemplate life without football. Now he'll spend his week getting ready to kick for the Giants in their Sunday game against the New England Patriots. And he relishes the challenge.
"I'm a kicker, that's what I do," he said. "I'll be ready."
Last Sunday, Matt Bryant severely pulled his right hamstring, even as he was making a 43-yard field goal to end the first half. That set in motion a comedy of errors as punter Jeff Feagles came out early for the second half to "practice" something he had never done in his 16-year NFL career -- or in high school or college, either. He had one chance in the third quarter and missed a 29-yarder.
So Monday the team located five likely replacements and contacted them. Tuesday they showed up at Giants Stadium, a good day since it is the players' day off and there are no prying reporters' eyes around. By the end of Tuesday they made a choice -- Conway -- and introduced him to the media Wednesday.
"We liked two of the five we had," Fassel said, "and then we were having this long discussion about them when I just stood up and said: 'Discussion over. I want Conway.' That settled it. I decided."
Perhaps it was a 55-yard field goal Conway kicked against the Giants for the Washington Redskins a few years ago that sold Fassel. "Well, I am familiar with him," he smiled. "I do remember a long one."
Conway is just pleased to be here and not at all afraid of the so-called Giants' Special Team Curse. "You can say what you want about that stuff," he said. "It's all about guys getting hurt, and this is football, where you get hurt all the time. I have a history of injury problems. I hope I can prove that I can stay healthy now."
The loss of Bryant is expected to last three to five weeks, and after that, what if Conway has been on fire? "We'll see what happens when Matt is ready to come back," Fassel said, offering lukewarm enthusiasm at best. "If Conway does a really good job, I might find a way to keep them both."
That would make three, with UFA Mike Hollis on Injured Reserve.
SERIES HISTORY: This is only the seventh meeting between the teams, and the series it tied at 3-3. The Patriots have won the last two -- in 1996 and 1999 -- and the Giants won the two before that in 1987 and 1990. Perhaps the most memorable meeting was the first, in 1970. The Giants won, 16-0, to the "delight" of the fans, who had spent most of their lives rooting for the Giants in the famous "New England corridor" that included Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--The Giants are 2-2 and head coach Bill Belichick of the Patriots insists they should be 4-0 "with just a little break here and a bounce there." He is also enamored with many of their offensive threats: "What more can you want than Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Kerry Collins? You get a couple of big plays out of [fullback] Jimmy Finn. How do you stop them?"
Fassel was asked if he finds it "exciting" to compare wits with Belichick and play chess with one of the NFL's master defensive coaches. As an offensive coordinator with a full portfolio, Fassel smiles and says, "I do find that exciting, interesting. I've done it a few times.
"When he was in Cleveland and mainly when I was the offensive coordinator at Denver. I remember that. His teams do a lot of things, they throw a number of things in and a lot of it is just one time. The biggest thing I respect about Bill Belichick is the essence of coaching -- he knows how to utilize his personnel."
--The eight teams that made the playoffs last season are 26-30 so far this year, and only one of the four remaining undefeated teams made the playoffs last year. "That just proves there is no upper echelon of teams any more," Fassel said. "We are all good enough to win one week against anybody, and they are all good enough to beat you the next week. All you can do is ride the highs and the lows."
Fassel feels the "better teams" will emerge because of four-, five- or six-game winning streaks, and doesn't deny that the Giants are capable of that. "Usually it shows up in the latter portions of a season," he adds, "but I wouldn't not take a winning streak starting right now, either."
--Rookie center Wayne Lucier is "heading home" for the game. He is a native of Amesbury, Mass., and lives in Salem, N.H. "You have to tell the rookies the first time they get close to home that this is a business trip," Fassel said. "There is no time for family and friends and reunions." Lucier was moved into the starting job when center Chris Bober moved out to right tackle to replace Ian Allen. "He isn't like your normal rookie," Fassel says. "He is mature and just like our other rookie lineman [right guard David Diehl], I don't think this game is too big for either one of them."
BY THE NUMBERS: 92.9 percent -- Giants' opponents have scored 13 times in 14 opportunities in the red zone, but only four of the scores have been touchdowns.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a couple of guys, I mean like veterans, who throw up before games, but these two aren't throwing up, just waiting to play." -- Giants' head coach Jim Fassel on the poise shown by his two rookie O-line starters, right guard David Diehl and center Wayne Lucier.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Giants have found it "slightly more difficult," according to head coach Jim Fassel, to prepare for the Patriots since so many of them are listed as questionable (that represents a 50-50 chance to play) or doubtful (25-75 chance). "It makes things complicated," he said. "We just have to wait to see who really plays. It might be that a lot of adjustments will go on in the first quarter -- by both teams."
Among the 11 listed as Q or D are seven starters -- ORT Adrian Klemm, RB Kevin Faulk, WQR David Patten, TE Daniel Graham (he alternates with Christian Fauria), LB Willie McGinest, CB Ty Law and LB Mike Vrabel.
--Rookie DT William Joseph (foot) is the only Giant listed as questionable. He didn't practice this week and is a sure bet for the Game Inactive list.
--TE Jeremy Shockey criticized the fans for leaving early last Sunday. "I saw lots of empty seats with six, seven minutes to go," he said, perhaps forgetting that it was the advent of Yom Kippur, the holiest of the Jewish holidays, and the faithful had to be at home before sundown.
--ORT Chris Bober is playing much better than the first three games in which he was moved over from center. "He is a tackle to start with," said left tackle Luke Petitgout. "Of course it was natural for him, and of course he was rusty so he needed a few games."
--DT Keith Hamilton played the full game against Miami and came out "perfectly fine," he said, referring to the hamstring pull that had kept him out of the game against Washington prior to the break.
--- MLB Mike Barrow is the team's leading tackler with 51, including 35 solos, and has 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a pass defensed and credit for six quarterback pressures.
GAME PLAN: These two teams met in the first preseason game Aug. 7 with the Patriots winning in a dreary performance by both teams punctuated by a driving, torrential rainstorm.
"I don't hold anything from that game," said head coach Jim Fassel. "There wasn't much to take away. This is the one that counts."
The Giants, who have been riddled through the air, must contend with QB Tom Brady, but he will in turn be somewhat restricted by the questionable condition of some of his wide receivers. Starter David Patten (a former Giant) and reserves Deion Branch and David Givens have all been listed as questionable.
Assuming they miraculously make it to game time healthy, Brady will try to use the deep crossing and diagonal patterns that worked so well for both Dallas and Washington. Opponents are averaging more than 273 yards in the air per game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Giants' DE Michael Strahan, who has slowly started to return to his 2002 form after missing the entire preseason schedule with a broken pinky toe on his right foot vs. ORT Adrian Klemm (listed as doubtful with an ankle injury) or reserve Tom Ashworth, a second-year player. Strahan should get the most of this matchup, regardless of who he plays.
--Giants' WRs Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard vs. Patriots' CBs Ty Law (ankle) and Tyrone Poole. Toomer has become the long-play receiver while Hilliard is the short-yardage, possession receiver. Both are veterans with experience and superb moves.
--Giants' TE Jeremy Shockey, who had a season-high 11 catches for 110 yards last week vs. Miami, against strongside LB Willie McGinest and SS Rodney Harrison.
Shockey is starting to look like the wild-eyed loose cannon he was as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 and if allowed to roam unchecked, could change the game.
INJURY IMPACT: Aside from PK Matt Bryant (out 3-5 weeks with a pulled right hamstring) the Giants are in relatively good health. Only rookie DT William Joseph (foot) is likely not to play.