Inside Slant - Giants vs. Lions

There aren't that many players who were on the team Jan. 5, 2003, when the Giants lost a wild-card playoff game in San Francisco. <BR><BR> Lost it, frankly, is not the right way to put this. Gave it away might be better. Choked on it might also apply.

That was the game, played in the City by the Bay, in which the Giants were leading 38-14 with less than six minutes to play in the third quarter. They surrendered 25 unanswered points in less than 20 minutes and were beaten 39-38.

The head coach of the 49ers was Steve Mariucci, now the head coach of the Detroit Lions. And the team the Giants play on Sunday, when they return from their break with a stunning 4-1 record, is Detroit.

Many thought that the Giants' abysmal collapse last season, when they finished 4-12 and tied with three other team as worst in the NFL, stemmed from that catastrophic defeat. Defensive end Michael Strahan, who was on the field, prefers not to talk about the game but has admitted, "It did set us back. I mean, holy cow, how could it not?"

That loss and the ensuing 4-12 record in 2003 combined to cost head coach Jim Fassel and most of his staff their jobs. That includes Johnnie Lynn, who was the defensive coordinator and is now secondary coach in Baltimore (where Fassel is offensive consultant to his close friend, head coach Brian Billick).

Mariucci has been less than eager to talk about that game as well, perhaps because his team was crushed the following week by Tampa Bay, the ultimate Super Bowl champion, but also because coaches don't talk about other coaches and other teams except in the most glowing of terms.

But Strahan remembers. So do CBs Will Allen and Will Peterson. So do a handful of the offensive players such as RB Tiki Barber, WRs Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard, TE Jeremy Shockey, LT Luke Petitgout and LG Jason Whittle. Beating Detroit won't dispel the sour taste left by that amazing collapse, nor will it get back many jobs, nor will it even the score with the 49ers.

But it might, even in some small way, begin to bring the team's psyche back. New head coach Tom Coughlin has used a drop of hemlock rather than a drop of honey to hone and sharpen this year's version of the franchise, and to him that loss in San Francisco means nothing. Beating Mariucci means nothing. But beating the Lions means a lot, if only because it will move his astonishing turnaround one game higher to a 5-1 record.

To a coach like Coughlin, that means everything.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Giants owe a special thanks to the Lions. It was Nov. 19, 2000, when a nondescript Detroit team came into Giants Stadium and administered a fearsome beating, leading at one point by 28-0 and finally waltzing out with a 31-21 victory.

That was the game that produced coach Jim Fassel's famous "guarantee speech," when he stood before a battery of reporters and radio and TV correspondents and guaranteed that the Giants would win their final four games of the season and make the playoffs, then win their playoff games until they got to the Super Bowl.

They did.

--The Giants had 10 interceptions last season and already have eight this year, with CB Will Peterson, SS Gibril Wilson (a rookie) and FS Brent Alexander leading with a pair each.

--RB Tiki Barber, who has 577 yards in 96 carries through five games, is averaging 115.4 yards per game and projects to what would be an all-time personal season total for him of 1,846. That would shatter the existing team single season mark of 1,516 set in 1986 by Joe Morris. In fact, Barber and Morris have the four best single-season rushing marks -- two each.

--Mary Love Young, widow of former Giants general manager George Young, has donated $2 million in her late husband's name to fund a four-story building/library at his high school alma mater, Calvert Hall H.S. in Baltimore. The official dedication of George Young Hall is scheduled for Oct. 29.

--The Giants have signed Derrick Ward, an undrafted rookie RB from Ottawa College in Kansas. He is 5-11, 233 pounds and might see some action instead of RB Ron Dayne, who appears to have fallen into disfavor again for his inability to capitalize on short-yardage situations.

--WR Tim Carter, for the third time in three seasons, has been injured. This time it appears to be far more serious, since he fractured a hip socket in the team's 28-10 victory in Dallas the week before their bye. Carter missed time as a rookie with a torn Achilles tendon and last season missed additional time when he was felled by three concussions in as many weeks. Rookie (sixth-round pick) Jamaar Taylor of Texas A&M will be given the chance to fill Carter's role. Otherwise, it could be special teams star David Tyree.

--DT Fred Robbins is progressing from his sprained shoulder vs. Dallas and is expected to start Sunday vs. Detroit.

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