Fassel issues another challenge

<P>MINNEAPOLIS – One year after Jim Fassel issued his famous guarantee, he gave his club another challenge: win their final six games, or stay home for the post-season. </P>

In the end, the Vikings just had too much offensive talent. Minnesota WRs Randy Moss and Cris Carter hurt the Giants all game long, with Moss' 57-yard TD catch salting the game away with 6:32 to play. A frenzied crowd of 64,283 – the third-largest in franchise history – looked on at the Metrodome as the Giants had their hopes of catching the Eagles for the NFC East title damaged badly.

New York, at 5-5, now trails the 6-3 Birds by a game-and-a-half. Minnesota (4-5) kept its post-season hopes alive with a big-time Monday night victory. After the game, Fassel told his troops that nothing short of winning the final six games will be good enough to make the post-season.

"I don't care what our effort and attitude and things like that and everything else is," Fassel said. "Like I told the team afterwards, and I don't give a rat's ass behind us right now…we're going to go out and win every game left and we're going to have to and that's the attitude and I'm going to be looking for it. "We have our backs completely to the wall now, and we're going to surrender nothing," Fassel continued.

"He told us that we have no other choice but to win the rest of our games," said RB Tiki Barber, who was surprisingly left mostly out of the offensive attack in the final three quarters after having an excellent first period.

 "We're 5-5 and we better get on a heck of a run or it will be too little, too late," added QB Kerry Collins, who threw two interceptions while completing 21-of-37 passes. "[Fassel] challenged us. If we're going to do something special, we're going to have to run the table."

 For the Giants, it was a typically disappointing effort. "We're not going to win many football games with inefficiency in the red zone and giving up big plays," Fassel said. "That's what that game was about." The Giants were only one of four in scoring TDs in the red zone. It was also about New York being penalized 15 times for 150 yards, something Fassel said was "inexcusable."

For the Vikings, whose backs were firmly planted against the wall, their big players came through big-time. Moss had 10 catches, for 171 yards and three TDs, while Carter added 10 catches for 46 yards. The beneficiary was Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper, who was outstanding himself, completing 26-of-38 passes for 277 yards.

"We have [defensive guys] in position to make plays and they have to make plays," Fassel said. "I told them we're going to have to win the rest. "I'm going to look at some things [regarding lineup changes]," Fassel said. "I'm not going to make any rash decisions." The Vikes certainly didn't waste any time getting on the board. Minnesota marched 76 yards in only four plays and a key penalty.

After Giants RDE Kenny Holmes dropped Vikes RB Michael Bennett for a four-yard loss, things looked good for New York. Then Moss took over. On consecutive snaps, Moss drew a 39-yard pass interference call on rookie CB Will Allen. On the next play, he ran down the left sideline, blew by a slowed CB Jason Sehorn and out-jumped FS Shaun Williams for the 28-yard TD.

On both occasions, Culpepper's pass was perfect. "We were right there on the first [TD]," Defensive Coordinator John Fox said. Feeding off the emotion of their early score, Vikes RB Travis Prentice absolutely leveled Ron Dixon on New York's first kickoff return. But the Giants rallied right back, moving all the way to the Minnesota five-yard line before falling apart and settling for a 43-yard K Morten Andersen field goal. Collins coolly hit WR Amani Toomer for 15 yards on third-and-10, then hit a streaking TE Dan Campbell for 25 more. Toomer caught a screen pass for a gain of 13, before Barber busted one up the gut for 24 yards to the Vikings five-yard line.

Things then went sour for the Giants, as New York's red zone failures continued. Coming into the contest, the Giants had only scored on nine of their previous 14 red-zone opportunities, including just five TDs. On first down, Collins' pass to WR Joe Jurevicius was caught out of bounds. On second down, Barber was dropped for a loss of six by newly-signed Vikes CB Dale Carter. Then, on third down, Vikes LB Patrick Chukwurah came crashing through the line and sacked Collins for a loss of 11. Collins fumbled, but RT Luke Petitgout alertly fell on the free ball.

"It's disappointing because we moved the ball, but just couldn't put it in the end zone," Collins said. "It jumped up and bit us again today." On Minnesota's next possession, Holmes continued his strong play in the early going by coming from behind Culpepper and knocking the ball free. He recovered the ball at the Vikings 41. The Giants cashed in on Holmes' big play.

WR Ike Hilliard came up just short of the marker on a third-and-14 catch. Fassel decided to go for it on fourth down. Collins followed RG Ron Stone's push and fell forward for the first down. Barber took Collins' quick pitch on the next play, followed FB Greg Comella's escort, which included a beautiful block on Vikes LB Kailee Wong, for a 29-yard gain to the Vikings one-yard line. Behind a big hole on the right side of the offensive line, Barber walked in untouched for a 10-7 New York lead with four seconds to play in the opening quarter.

The Vikes grabbed the lead later in the first half when they caught New York in practically an all-out blitz. On a second-down play, everyone on New York's defense but SS Sam Garnes came toward Culpepper, who just lofted a soft pass to a wide-open Moss. The supremely talented and equally immature receiver caught the ball near the 15-yard line and pranced into the end zone, drawing a 15-yard taunting penalty in the process. Sehorn blew his assignment on the play, blitzing when he should have stayed back to cover Moss.

Just when it seemed like the Giants were down, Collins hit Hilliard for 32 yards to convert a third-and-20. After Jurevicius dropped a third-down pass that would have moved the sticks, Andersen hit a 36-yard field goal to forge Minnesota's 14-13 halftime lead. Will Allen made a terrific play; picking off a pass that was tipped by Vikes WR Jake Reed, to secure that Minny's lead would grow no larger.

Andersen's 52-yard FG attempt at the halftime buzzer hit the crossbar and fell away no good. New York came out and regained the lead. Of all people, WR Ron Dixon made a nice, diving grab for a 32-yard gain. That set up Andersen's 51-yard field goal, which gave Big Blue a 16-14 cushion. Minnesota was on the move again, spurred on by an 18-yard run by Moss, who took a third-and-one pitch from Culpepper. But Will Allen stepped up and made another huge play. Culpepper saw Moss in the end zone, but Allen took the ball away from him for his second INT of the game.

But the Vikings wouldn't go away quietly. They moved 62 yards in 14 plays to take a 21-16 lead with 9:03 to play. Twice on the march, Minnesota converted fourth downs, the second for the one-yard scoring grab by Carter. Earlier on the drive, Carter caught a two-yard toss to convert a fourth-and-one from the New York 42-yard line. In between, Culpepper busted off a pair of runs for 24 total yards. That helped sell the Giants on the scoring play, when he faked the handoff, the run and found Carter wide-open in the end zone.

 "That was just a quick play," Fox explained. "It was a total pass and Shaun Williams was between a rock and a hard place. But Jessie [Armstead] could have helped out on the bootleg." No one was there to help out when Culpepper found Moss for 57 yards on a third-and-15 for the game's final score to seal the deal. New York's final two possessions ended in Collins interceptions.

Now, as Fassel said, they've got to win them all, starting with Sunday's difficult match-up against Oakland.


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