Giants cling to hope, rally by Cards

<P>EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It wasn't pretty, but they'll take it. The Giants survived an afternoon of mistakes and offensive ineptitude, but came through in the end to take a must-win contest from Arizona, 17-13. While still on the outside looking in, New York is still alive in the post-season chase. </P>

"We didn't do a lot of things right in that game," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "Although there were a lot of parts of the game that I didn't like and it wasn't pretty we just kept fighting."

The Giants blatantly dropped five passes, but the offending players were the ones who came through in the end. WR Amani Toomer finished the game with three drops and three catches, the final one winning the game for Big Blue. With 25 seconds to play, Toomer ran a fade route in the right side of the end zone and gathered in a four-yard pass for the winning points for New York.

 "Basically we said we are going to take our big guy and run him down," said QB Kerry Collins, who didn't have a particularly good game, but threw for two scores. "I am going to make a throw, Amani, you go up and get it. I held it for a little bit and just let Amani work and get separate from the guy (CB Renaldo Hill) and then I tried to put it in there for him."

He did and the Giants improved to 6-7 on the season. Barber, who dropped two passes and another punt, chipped in with 85 rushing yards and 35 through the air. Things looked bleak for Big Blue when Arizona scored to take the lead with 4:04 to play. All game long, the Giants played poorly, but still good enough to lead the Cardinals. That all changed on a fourth-and-15 prayer from the Giants 24-yard line. Cards QB Jake Plummer was under pressure and just threw the ball to the back middle of the end zone. Cards TE Tywan Mitchell out-leaped CB Jason Sehorn for the Cards first TD and a 13-10 Arizona. But the Giants responded.

Collins led an 11-play, 70-yard drive by completing six-of-nine passes, including two third-down conversions, one to Barber, another to WR Ike Hilliard.

"We did it when it counted and we came out the winner," C Dusty Zeigler said. "That was fun for me because the adrenaline was flowing and we were excited. In the end we scored the points when it counted. This is a huge win for us; it was great for confidence." While many Giants had to be thinking, ‘here we go again' when the Cards scored, the offense kept its confidence.

"We knew we had time," Collins said. "We just had to execute and do the things that we do best." After the game, Fassel had his troops laughing when he asked them if they were trying to give him a heart attack. "It sure looked like it," FB Greg Comella said. "Coach wanted to know if we were trying to kill him."

While the offense got the job done when it had to, the defense was there for Big Blue all game long, most notably the linebackers. Jessie Armstead was phenomenal, posting easily his best game of the season. He had 16 tackles (13 solo) and a forced fumble. "Everyone wants to take knocks at me, I'll show everyone what 9-8 is made of," Armstead said. And Armstead had help, as the next two guys atop the tackle charts were MLB Micheal Barrow and SLB Brandon Short, who had 13 and 10 tackles, respectively. Barrow added 1.5 sacks and a pass break-up and Short had a half-sack. "LBs baby," Barrow yelled after the game. "That was awesome the way we all played out there."

New York's secondary also stepped up, as Sehorn was most responsible for keeping Cards super WR David Boston in check. After burning New York for 137 receiving yards in the clubs' first meeting, Boston was ‘held' to 84 yards on eight catches and no touchdowns. With the exception of the exciting final five minutes, this contest was dreadful from a Giants perspective. Fassel took a page out of the Bill Parcells handbook, electing to kick off to start both halves in order to defend the east goal and play with the wind in the first and third quarters.

"I've never seen the wind be this different," Fassel said. "I took the direction of the wind at our back because we said all week about wanting to be explosive in the first quarter to get the lead. It made it hard; the wind was blowing hard." Fassel's strategy didn't exactly come up roses. "They drove the ball and occupied the clock going into the wind," he said. "It was incredible."

Despite being forced to go into the wind in the opening quarter, it didn't appear to affect Plummer all that much. He led Arizona 40 yards in nine plays to a 42-yard field goal by Cards K Bill Gramatica. For all those sick of Gramatica's silly post-FG celebrations, hopefully you saw the fired up kicker fall to the ground with an injured knee after jumping around like crazy after he had given the Cards a 3-0 lead. His questionable status for the remainder of the game certainly hurt the Cardinals.

But New York responded – and quickly. Collins led the team 70 yards in only five plays, capping the march with a perfect strike to WR Ron Dixon for a 26-yard touchdown, the receiver's first of the season. Dixon, who was filling in for the injured Joe Jurevicius, beat Cards CB Corey Chavous on the play. Barber's 29-yard run, which was keyed by a great downfield block by Dixon, and Toomer's 14-yard gain on a screen pass aided the march.

 "It was just a regular seam route, something that we've been working on," Dixon said. "I was able to come down with it; it was a real good pass. I just tried to get around the defender and get myself open so Kerry could get a good look." Still going into the wind, the Cards were on the march again, moving 65 yards, but New York's defense stiffened and Arizona had to settle for a 23-yard Gramatica field goal. The kicker returned to action after retreating to the locker room to have his right knee taped.

However, the Cards used S Pat Tillman to kick off for the remainder of the contest. Plummer burned the Giants on the ground, narrowly escaping LDE Michael Strahan's sack attempt and gaining 11 yards and then running for 15 more three plays later. Early in the second quarter, P Rodney Williams pulled down a high snap and tried to run for the first down on a fourth-and-14. However, he only gained 11 yards, foolishly stepping out of bounds a few yards short of the marker.

 "He could have caught it, squared himself and gotten the punt off," Fassel said. But that miscue ended up not hurting the Giants, as Short and Strahan combined to sack Plummer on third down. A later New York drive was thwarted when Toomer dropped passes that would have gone for first downs on consecutive plays. That led to the usual New York special teams breakdown, as Arizona's Arnold Jackson returned a punt 39 yards. New York received a golden opportunity late in the first half, but not surprisingly, the Giants were unable to capitalize.

After Boston caught a five-yard pass to convert a fourth-and-four at the New York 19-yard line, the defense forced Arizona into a field-goal try. Trey Junkin's snap sailed well over the head of holder Scott Player. The ball rolled for several yards before Sehorn picked it up and rambled another 27 yards with the free ball, all the way to the Arizona 30. But the Giants lost 12 yards in three plays and were forced to punt.

 "He got caught by a defensive lineman (Fred Wakefield)," Comella said of Sehorn. "I'm going to have to give him crap for that." After the Cards dominated the time of possession in the first half (20:01-9:59), the third quarter was much of the same. Arizona went on a drive that chewed up 5:43. But the drive came up empty when CB Will Allen made a great play to break up a third-down pass to Boston, slapping the ball away with his left hand. Arizona's subsequent punt pinned New York at its own five-yard line.

 But the potent Giants offense wasn't finished yet. The crowd gave the offense a mock standing ovation early in the fourth quarter after Hilliard caught a 14-yard pass for a first down. That was part of a nine-play, 37-yard drive that ended when Andersen hit from 39 yards out to extend New York's lead to 10-6. With a chance to run a little time off the clock, New York went three-and-out. With 15 three-and-outs in the fourth quarter this year, the Giants have more than any other club. The Cards went for it on fourth-and-nine from the New York 30 and got it.

With Barrow offside, Mitchell caught an 11-yard pass to keep the Cardinals' hopes alive. Their hopes looked dead again when a great defensive play by Armstead left the Cards and Plummer facing a fourth-and-15 from the Giants 24. Plummer dropped the shotgun snap, but picked it up and threw the ball up for grabs in the middle back of the end zone. Mitchell jumped up and out-leaped Sehorn, who had the ball go right through his hands, for the game-winning touchdown. But the Giants wouldn't quit, and Collins rebounded with his best drive of the afternoon. The key play was Barber's 11-yard gain to convert a third-and-10 in Arizona's red zone. Otherwise, New York would have had to settle for a field-goal attempt and probably overtime. They wouldn't settle.

 "It was a great win, especially the way we pulled it out, that's what made it special," Dixon said. "Let's go on for number two now."

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