The only disaster that had yet to befall the New York Giants crashed down with a finality born of hopelessness during the second half of their game with the Washington Redskins on Sunday -- quarterback Kerry Collins suffered a high ankle sprain that will almost certainly keep him out of this Sunday night's game in New Orleans and possibly the remainder of the season as well.
It was hardly surprising, what with the constant re-juggling and re-shifting of an offensive line that wasn't much in the first place, but now the Giants, who fell to 4-9 with their 20-7 defeat and officially out of the playoffs, will go with little-used Jesse Palmer as their quarterback.
They'll position him behind an O-line that has reached depths unimaginable in recent seasons, and not even thought possible when this season started and the Giants, amazingly, were considered NFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl with such as St. Louis and Philadelphia.
The latest MIA was left tackle Luke Petitgout (sprained back), replaced by moving Ian Allen from the right tackle spot and inserting Jeffrey Hatch, last year's third-round draft pick who had not yet played a single down in the NFL. The guards were rookie David Diehl, a fifth-round pick who has started all season, and Scott Peters, signed as a "street free agent" five weeks ago and activated to the roster two weeks ago. Chris Bober was the center, as he has been after replacing Allen at right tackle for games two through six.
That Collins was injured on a play that had been blown dead for delay of game was not lost on the Giants. "Even when the play is over," said Diehl, "it seems we can't get out of the way of more bad luck."
It was the Giants' sixth straight home defeat after an opening day victory as well as their fifth consecutive defeat. They are scheduled to play New Orleans, Dallas and Carolina in the final three games, giving them a solid chance to present their worst record since the 3-12-1 of 1983 (the first year of Bill Parcells' eight-year tenure).
The only question remaining to be asked concerns the immediate future of coach Jim Fassel. At this moment, there is probably a 90 percent chance that when the season ends so will his seven-year term. The only possibility for something different is that the Giants will admit that most of the personnel shortages and injuries were not his doing, and that if he agrees to hire an offensive coordinator (he currently serves in that role, too) and replaces defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn, he could stay.
It is not likely, however, but it is possible.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
-- QB Kerry Collins was taken off the field on a cart in the third quarter and diagnosed as having a high ankle sprain. X-rays were negative, however, but that particular injury often takes a long time to heal. Both he and coach Jim Fassel alluded to that in the immediate post game period.
-- WR Ike Hilliard (sprained knee) will probably not play vs. New Orleans, but the extent of the injury is such that he could play again before the season closes.
-- WR Tim Carter was removed with what appeared to be a concussion, his third in four weeks. "I saw him having difficulty lining up and running his routes," said Fassel, "and with something like that [multiple concussions] you just get him out of there fast."
-- OT Ian Allen gave up the record-setting sack to Redskins' DE Bruce Smith, his 199th. He passed retired Reggie White for the all-time lead. "I made an inside move on him and the quarterback was right there," Smith said. "I just reached out and he went down. But I thought that kid [Allen] played pretty well all game."
-- RB Tiki Barber went over the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career, gaining 99 yards to stand at 1,092 for the season with three games remaining. On the down side, however, he fumbled again -- his seventh this season and 29th in his career (of which he has lost 14). The bouncing ball syndrome struck on the second play of the game and the Redskins were able to convert the recovery into a field goal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS REDSKINS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Neither starter Kerry Collins nor his replacement, Jesse Palmer, has much time to pass considering the erratic play of the young and inexperienced O-line which once again went through various changes in personnel and position. Collins completed just five of 14 attempts for 62 yards and was intercepted once and sacked once. Palmer fared slightly better -- completing seven of 11 for 83 yards -- but he was sacked an astonishing five times in little more than a quarter's worth of work. There was virtually no TE (Jeremy Shockey and his replacement, Marcellus Rivers, were both on the Game Inactive list) and the pass rush was sufficient to keep the WRs less than effective.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- RB Tiki Barber gained 99 yards in 16 carries but fumbled once and turned the ball over to the Redskins on the second play of the game. Reserve RB Dorsey Levens added 7 carries for 21 yards, but once again the lack of crisp blocking made running side made running inside near impossible. Most of Barber's gains were self-made, going around end. Of note was one play in which he converted a screen pass into a 36-yard gain -- but was caught from behind by MLB Jeremiah Trotter, 6-2 and 262. Despite surrendering the NFL record 199th sack to DE Bruce Smith, LT Ian Allen came across as the most effective of an ineffective lot.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Reserve QB Tim Hasselbeck played with a touch of brilliance, completing 13 of 19 passes for 154 yards and two TDs. The Giants managed only one sack of Hasselbeck (whose father, Don, was a Giants' TE in 1985, and whose brother, Matt, is the Seattle Seahawks' starting QB). Half of the Redskins' 20 first downs were earned via the pass. The Giants' secondary was generally spotty at best. SS Johnnie Harris played poorly, as did both CBs, rookie Frank Walker and Ralph Brown.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Giants' front four and linebackers played well, with special praise for LDE Michael Strahan, who had 11 tackles and a pair of sacks. The three LBs -- Mike Barrow, Brandon Short and Dhani Jones -- combined for 25 tackles. The Redskins' leading rusher was RB Trung Canidate, who carried 19 times for 69 yards. The Redskins played without start LT Chris Samuels, which may have contributed to their less than sparkling rushing totals.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Punter Jeff Feagles is mostly responsible for the high grade. He kicked four times for a 51.5 average (45.5 net) and were it not for an official's error, he would have had a long gain of 58 yards (not 59) to the Redskins' 1-yard line. PK Matt Bryant was wide left on his only FG attempt, a 26-yarder. The KO and punt return game was as dismal as it has been all season. Brian Mitchell took one punt back five yards and two KOs for 36. Kick coverage was flawed, allowing Washington's Patrick Johnson to take a KO back 50 yards.
COACHING: C-minus -- There just isn't anything much left to work with, which gives both head coach Jim Fassel (also the offensive coordinator) and defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn a mercy pass. Lynn can't call the formations he wants to call (regardless of whether they are the right ones) because his personnel has been devastated by injury. Similarly, Fassel has almost no control over the passing game because of the condition of the O-line. Maybe it's a competitive streak, but some of the conservative calls on offense (a midfield punt on fourth-and-one, for instance) seem out of place for a team going nowhere. And is it a coaching decision not to bring RB Ron Dayne back from his season-long banishment to the Game Inactive list to see if he can do anything for the running game?
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