TEMPE, Ariz. – "A win is a win." Countless Giants coined that phrase after New York‘s hard-fought but ugly 17-10 victory over Arizona. The win, in front of a sparse crowd of 36,917 at Sun Devil Stadium, improved New York to 5-4 on the season. It wasn't pretty by any stretch, as the Giants were life and death to beat one of the league's worst clubs, but after an up-and-down first half of the season, they'll certainly take it.
"We haven't left ourselves any room to slip up," said QB Kerry Collins, who threw for 155 yards, a TD and an INT. "So to come out here and get a win is big." Head Coach Jim Fassel agreed. "They don't have any quit in them," he said of the Cardinals, who dropped to 2-6 on the year. "But there are lots of things I'm glad to see today."
Fassel mentioned the rushing game and kick and punt coverage units as areas that stood out positively for Big Blue. Tiki Barber paced a ground attack that rushed for a total of 186 yards. Barber busted out for his first 100-yard game of the season, scampering for 118 yards on only 17 carries, a sizzling average of 6.9 yards per rush.
"It's about time," FB Greg Comella said of Barber's breakthrough effort. "It was nice," he said. "I got a lot of opportunities. I feel as good as I have the last couple weeks. Just look at the amount of touches I got. That's the difference." Barber was consistent all game, with a long rush of 21 yards. He wasn't particularly flashy, but impressed his mates nonetheless. "Tiki's running real well now and finishing his runs really well," Collins said. "You don't expect that from such a little guy, but he's really powerful."
Ron Dayne, who added 49 yards, also provided New York with power, although he gained a mere 2.6 yards per carry. Dayne's three-yard TD run got the Giants on the scoreboard early on. "He's always looked good to me," Dayne said of Barber. "We almost had 100 each between the two of us." The Giants also survived their punting experiment.
When P Rodney Williams was injured against Dallas, Big Blue planned to sign a replacement. When last week's punting tryouts didn't go as expected, New York decided to let backup K Owen Pochman handle the duties. With the exception of one terrible punt that directly led to Arizona's only TD, Pochman did a decent job. "I thought Owen did a good job, other than that one," Fassel said. "I was happy that they had confidence in me," said Pochman, who averaged 29.2 yards on five punts, but downed three inside the 20-yard line. "They let me get back out there to let me make amends for that one."
When asked after the game if he planned to let Pochman continue as the punter, Fassel said that he'd "evaluate it." Needless to say, Pochman hopes to keep his part-time job. "I'm capable of much more," he said. "I learned and got game experience. The biggest question mark was how comfortable was I going to feel. I felt comfortable."
As usual, LDE Michael Strahan was comfortable. He had seven tackles and forced a fumble on a sack that went for a 32-yard loss. New York recovered the ball and went on to score. However, after the game, Strahan spoke well of Arizona QB Jake Plummer. "They don't call him ‘The Snake' for nothing. He's amazing," said Strahan, who admitted missing Plummer on several other occasions. "Everyone pretty much missed the guy when we were trying to rush him."
The Giants defense held the pesky Plummer to 172 yards passing and only nine on the ground. New York survived another strong game by Cards WR David Boston, who finished with nine catches for 137 yards. On this afternoon, against this club, it all added up to victory for Big Blue.
Things started well for the Giants. They stopped Arizona three-and-out on the Cardinals' first series. DT Keith Hamilton, who returned to action after missing the previous two contests with a dislocated shoulder, ended the possession with a sack. The Giants started their first drive at the Arizona 44-yard line. Seven plays later, Dayne followed a pulling LG Glenn Parker and rumbled into the end zone from the three-yard line. New York's drive was aided when Cards LB Ronald McKinnon was flagged for hitting Dayne late following an unsuccessful second-down carry. Dayne scored on the next play.
The Cards completed a few passes in a row, but CB Jason Sehorn forced a fumble on Cards WR David Boston, and LB Brandon Short recovered the free ball at the New York 43-yard line. This just in. The Giants have tight ends … and they can catch the ball. Midway through the first quarter, Collins found Dan Campbell for a gain of 11 and a New York first down. But when Collins fumbled and recovered on third down the drive was over.
Arizona's new punter, Chad Stanley, didn't endear himself to the four Cardinals fans on hand when he shanked a 20-yard punt that set New York up at the Cards 38-yard line. But the Giants couldn't capitalize. After Collins hit WR Joe Jurevicius for 14 yards on third down, the drive stalled and K Morten Andersen missed a 38-yard field goal wide left. The Cards were on the move via a handful of Plummer passes to Boston. But to no one's surprise, Strahan stepped up and made the big defensive play. Strahan's 15th sack of the year matched his best career season of 1998. Plummer dropped back to pass and Strahan sacked him, punching the ball free in the process.
RDE Kenny Holmes picked up the loose ball and returned it six yards before he lateraled the ball to MLB Micheal Barrow, who gained 13 more. Big Blue started at the Arizona 42-yard line. Five plays later, Collins dropped back with all the time in the world and found Hilliard running a post pattern for a 27-yard touchdown. "Ike ran a great route and got behind the safeties," Collins said. Pochman hurt the Giants on his second boot. From his own 22, he was only able to get off a 16-yard punt, which left the Cards at the New York 38.
A couple plays later, Plummer scrambled and found Boston down the left sideline for a 38-yard score that halved the Giants' lead to 14-7. Boston appeared to push Sehorn on the play, but there was no penalty called. But the Giants never got down on their rookie fill-in. "All I could really do was laugh at myself," Pochman said. "All I got was support. People weren't ready to rip my head off and ostracize the kicker/punter. They gave me nothing but confidence." Collins made a costly mistake early in the third quarter. New York was on the move, but Collins overthrew Jurevicius and Cards S Kwamie Lassiter picked off the errant pass. The Cards traveled 35 yards, but had to settle for a 32-yard field goal from Bill Gramatica that sliced New York's edge to 14-10.
But the Giants tried to respond. After a holding penalty on WR Thabiti Davis backed Big Blue up to its own 11, New York used a good mix of Barber (37 yards) and Hilliard (21-yard gain on an end around) to move all the way to within inches of the goal line, but they were unable to score. Dayne was dropped for a loss on third-and-goal and Collins sacked on fourth down when he couldn't find anyone open.
The Giants held and got the ball back at the Arizona 40-yard line. Collins followed a surge by the offensive line to gain three yards on fourth-and-one. He then hit WR Amani Toomer at the sideline for a gain of 13. The Giants got so desperate that TE Howard Cross even recorded his first catch of the season, but he stumbled and fell short of the marker on third down. Andersen had to come on and hit a 25-yard FG to give the Giants a 17-10 lead with 11:39 to play. That would serve as the final score.
The Cards had one final chance to tie the game, and they definitely put a scare into New York. Arizona converted two third downs and a fourth down in moving to the New York 39. But the defense rose up and held on fourth-and-four when Plummer's pass to WR MarTay Jenkins sailed through the receiver's hands. With 4:11 left to play, New York was able to run off all but 18 seconds of the remaining time before sealing the win.
"We should have been able to end that thing there," Fassel said. Pochman's 30-yard punt to the Arizona three-yard line backed the Cards up. On Plummer's first chance, rookie CB Will Allen picked off a pass intended for Boston and New York was able to put this one in the win column.