Having hit the skids with three consecutive defeats, their record sliding to 2-4 and their preseason contender's status a hollow shell, the Giants traveled to Minneapolis to face the undefeated Vikings.
Piece of cake, actually. Perhaps just what was needed all along, a situation in which nobody thought they could win the game.
"Do we function best in a crisis situation?" Fassel repeated in the victorious locker room. "I don't know, but maybe. We sure did today."
Fassel's Giants throttled the Vikings, 29-17, to end Minnesota's unbeaten status and at the same time raise their own record to 3-4.
Considering the NFC East, that's not a bad thing, that 3-4 record. The Cowboys lost and are 5-2. Next are the Eagles at 4-3. Then come the Giants and Redskins.
This was a game that featured yet another offensive line combination, as Fassel mixed and matched to take up the slack for the season-long loss of left guard Rich Seubert. What he did was this: He put Ian Allen back at right tackle, thereby moving Rich Bober to center (where he played all last season). That meant uprooting this year's center, rookie Wayne Lucier, to left guard.
Diehl is improving each game and could qualify as a member of the all-Rookie team at season's end. The result? Quarterback Kerry Collins was sacked only once, had time to complete 23 of 39 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns and the running game had the lanes to get 75 yards for Tiki Barber.
"I thought the offensive line played a hell of a game," said Fassel.
Allen was the most interesting development. He had been the right tackle all during training camp. He started for all four preseason games.
Then he started in the opener, and apparently played so horrendously vs. the Rams (even though the Giants won) that he was benched.
It would appear that on 13 plays, Allen drew a zero grade from O-line coach Jim McNally, who doesn't tolerate that sort of performance. On the other hand, some players suggest that McNally picks a player each year to abuse, a practice that might have driven tackle Mike Rosenthal to the Vikings as an Unrestricted Free Agent last spring for $200,000 less than the Giants offered the 6-foot-7, 310-pounder.
"I told him this in front of the whole team when I was handing out game ball and 'atta boy's' I said, 'Ian, I had to bench you okay? And I had to play you again, I needed you again," Fassel said. "You need to work on your technique, you need to work on some assignments, you need some work to hone in on your skills and become a better player but I will live with that,' because what I saw in him yesterday, that I hadn't seen in him before and I was very proud of him -- he had fight. He fought, he finished every play; he was battling. As long as he will give me that kind of toughness and effort; he will finish plays and all the way than we will keep living with it. That is why he got an 'atta boy' because he played well."
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--LDT Cornelius Griffin left the game in the second quarter with a sprained ankle and did not return. Further examinations were scheduled to reveal the extent of the injury. It is not the first time the 6-3, 300-pounder has had ankle problems in his career.
"He has been examined by the doctors but I haven't had a chance to talk to Ronnie (Barnes) too much," coach Jim Fassel said.
--RB Tiki Barber became the Giants' all-time all-purpose yardage leader, surpassing Hall of Famer Frank Gifford (1952-60, 1962-64). Barber now has 9,890 total all-purpose yards; Gifford had 9,868.
--WR Ike Hilliard caught nine passes (his highest regular season total) for 100 yards and two touchdowns (another single-game career high). He currently has 40 receptions for 417 yards and five TDs through seven games; his career highs are 72 receptions (1999) and eight TDs (2000), both clearly within striking distance.
--CB Will Allen had a tough time guarding Vikings WR Randy Moss in the first half, although he was getting help, but in the second half the combination of Allen plus others almost totally shut down the exceptional Moss. He had five catches for 121 yards and two TDs for the game, but he had just two catches for four yards in the second half.
--LB Wes Mallard, a special teams standout, picked up a blocked Jeff Feagles punt and returned it 12 yards, enough to give the Giants a unique first down.
"Frank proved to me he can play," coach Jim Fassel said. "I think he did a hell of a job. That was a great job on the interception, he had tackles; he played a pretty good game."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I didn't play him much in the preseason. I wasn't sure how the numbers would shake down and if I could keep him, but I knew I wanted to keep him and I didn't play him because I didn't want other teams to get too good a look at him." -- Giants' coach Jim Fassel speaking of the 5-10, 190-pound Frank Walker, the rookie corner from Tuskegee.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- QB Kerry Collins completed 23 of 39 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns (both to WR Ike Hilliard). He was intercepted only once, making it 10 for the season, but he did start throwing downfield again after a three-game hiatus. WR Ike Hilliard had nine receptions for 100 yards and both of Collins' TD passes. The line, makeshift and complete with rookies and free agents, gave Collins sufficient time to throw. TE Jeremy Shockey made three spectacular catches, the best a 46-yarder in which he ran 35 of the yards and crashed through and over three defenders in doing it. His three amounted to 81 yards; WR Amani Toomer had three as well for 96 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- RB Tiki Barber carried 20 times for 75 yards, not his best day and not an overpowering amount but enough to offset the Vikings' defense from focusing on the passing game. FB Jimmy Finn, becoming an unsung hero, had at least four key lead blocks for Barber. There are still flaws in Shockey's blocking game, however; he failed on three plays that were otherwise well-blocked running plays. The blocking of reserve RB Dorsey Levens, who didn't gain much yardage, was also helpful.
PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Vikings burned the Giants in the first half, especially WR Randy Moss, who had five catches for 121 yards and two TDs for the game but only two catches and four yards in the second half. But things tightened up, especially the pass rush, with the two starting ends, Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes, accounting for all three sacks. Strahan had two, giving him eight for the season (and 103.5 for his career). Defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn tried to compile some sort of combination man-and-zone defense against Moss, but he simply beat the coverage with speed and exceptional athleticism.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Moe Williams hurt the Giants, as did surprise starter Onterrio Smith, a rookie, but all in all the front seven held their ground most of the time. Once again the linebackers managed much of the load, with middle linebacker Mike Barrow leading the team with nine tackles. It was the sixth time in seven games that he did so. Strahan had six tackles along with his two sacks. Lance Legree filled in for the injured (sprained ankle) Cornelius Griffin and helped to fill the gaps, although he doesn't have the bulk, or the quickness, of the four-year veteran who will become an Unrestricted Free Agent next season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- Brett Conway, the fill-in kicker for Matt Bryan (severely pulled hamstring) made all three FG attempts, from distances of 44, 37 and 20 yards. Still no excitement generated by the return tandem of Brian Mitchell and Delvin Joyce, and for the first time in two years Jeff Feagles had a punt blocked. That turned out to be a positive, however, when reserve LB Wes Mallard picked up the loose ball and returned it 12 yards to give the Giants a first down and get them out of imminent danger. Kick coverage was outstanding.
COACHING: B-minus -- Coach Jim Fassel seems to have found the right buttons to push as his team played with far more intensity and focus. Offensively, since he is the coordinator, his play-calling was better and more imaginative than it has been; defensively, coordinator Johnnie Lynn put together a clever package of coverage to confuse QB Daunte Culpepper and limit WR Randy Moss, who can't really be defensed but might be slowed down. O-line coach Jim McNally deserves a mention for the work he did to get his "new" unit ready.