Special day for Giants

It's been 50 years since Jimmy Patton returned both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same game. Yet that didn't stop the newest Giant, Chad Morton, from telling teammate and fellow return man Willie Ponder that the duo was going to make history that day and each score a touchdown.

"We talked about it," Morton said. "Let's be the first team on opening day to score a kickoff return and a punt return. I don't think it has happened too many times before. We got two returns in the same day."

Ponder started things off midway through the third period when he took Neil Rackers' kickoff, used an excellent block by Brandon Jacobs and sprinted 95 yards for the score that gave Big Blue a 28-19 lead.

"The guys up front did a real great job," Ponder said. "I saw the cut outside and made the cut and just turned it on."

At about the 30-yard line, Ponder began to strut and preen, something that earned him a stern talking to from coach Tom Coughlin when he came to the sideline.

"Some people practice their end zone dances," Ponder said. "That's not ever me. I just wanted to do something for the fans."

Ditto Morton, who signed with New York less than two weeks before the opener.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Morton settled under a punt, ran it back through the middle and took off, racing 52 yards for New York's final touchdown.

"I am not really sure what happened on that play," Morton said. "I just started running and was trying not to get caught. I was just praying that I didn't get caught."

Morton credited the coaching staff for changing the call to a middle return, after trying to get to the edge on previous tries.

"Special teams naturally was outstanding with a kickoff return and a punt return for a touchdown in the same game, it was outstanding," Coughlin said.

Fassel's new role: No matter how excited he is about his team's chances to make a postseason run, last Sunday morning had to be bittersweet for Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel. After seven consecutive years of waking up on opening day as a head coach, Fassel now starts his second season as a Baltimore assistant.

"It is different because that's what I did for so many years," Fassel told TGI from his office at Ravens headquarters. "But I have a job to do right now and I'm really having fun. I'm trying to help this offense improve and working with a good friend (Brian Billick)."

While Fassel was reticent to discuss the head-coaching prospects in his future, TGI learned that the former Giants coach is expected to be in the running for several possible job openings.

Rumors out of Tampa Bay have Jon Gruden in his last season unless he can get the Bucs into the playoffs. Fassel, who worked with Bucs GM Bruce Allen while both were with the Raiders, has already been mentioned as a possibility to take over.

Other clubs with tenuous coaching situations that have already overtly or covertly expressed some level of interest in Fassel include the Vikings, Broncos and Redskins, who TGI has learned were going to give Fassel the job had Joe Gibbs left after his first season.

Fassel, of course, was up for several jobs right after he left New York, but had no luck. A second go-around last offseason also netted no fruit. However, many believe that the third time will be the charm for Fassel, especially if he's able to get anything going with the Ravens struggling passing attack.

Fassel added the best part of coaching this year is having his son, John, on staff as a Ravens offensive assistant. "That's a lifetime dream come true," he said. "Guys like Don Shula and Marty Schottenheimer always told me to make sure no matter what you do to make sure you have your son on the same coaching staff with you at some point in your life."

Super Strahan: Michael Strahan returned to game action in a big way, posting 1.5 sacks among his seven tackles.

"His play all day was outstanding," Coughlin said.

"Having him back means it frees up a lot of other guys," Antonio Pierce said. "This is Strahan's team."

Walking wounded: Late in the game, Jeremy Shockey left with what Coughlin described as an ankle injury. When asked if he was okay, Shockey replied, "We'll see."

RT Kareem McKenzie left the game in the second quarter with a sprained ankle. Veteran Bob Whitfield replaced him.

"After that first play, I did all right," Whitfield said. "It took a couple of plays to get back into that right-handed groove."

The defense rests: The Giants run defense, a huge trouble spot last season, rebounded in a big way against Arizona. In 2004, the Giants, who allowed 134.8 rushing yards per game last year, surrendered a total of 2,157 ground yards, the most they've allowed since 1980.

Sunday was a much different story, as the defense limited Arizona ball carriers to only 31 yards on 21 carries, with the longest run allowed a 12-yarder.

"The way the defense played today, especially against the run, showed that this is a different team," Pierce said.

Big hitter: Shaun Williams delivered the hit of the game when he leveled Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter, knocking the Cardinals receiver's helmet off in the process.

"It's been a while," Williams laughed after he was asked when he last separated a player from his headgear. "I didn't want him to hold onto the ball (which he did). It was nice to see his helmet come off."

Short list: When the Giants took the field against Arizona, they had only five players remaining from the 2000 club that reached the Super Bowl – DE Michael Strahan, RB Tiki Barber, S Shaun Williams, LT Luke Petitgout and WR Amani Toomer.

"It means that I've done something right and been consistent," Barber said. "Just look around this locker room. There's only three of us from ‘97 (Barber, Strahan, Toomer) and five of us from 2000. It's just part of the process of this league. Guys come and go."

For openers: The Giants are now 46-30-5 on opening day and 45-32-4 in home openers, including victories the previous two seasons over St. Louis and Washington. They are 14-10 in season-opening home games. The Giants are 17-13 in Giants Stadium openers and 12-7 in season-opening games in Giants Stadium. The Giants now lead the all-time series with the Cardinals, 78-41-2.

Inactives: Will Peterson, who's been bothered by a knee injury since Aug. 20, was unable to play Sunday. In his stead, Curtis Deloatch started and Corey Webster filled in as the nickel corner. The other Giants who didn't get uniforms for the opener were: LB Barrett Green, G Rich Seubert, WR Jamaar Taylor, DE Adrian Awasom and DT Damane Duckett. Jared Lorenzen was the third quarterback.

Next up: Big Blue ‘hosts' the New Orleans Saints on Monday night at 7:30. Of course, the game was scheduled for New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina changed all that.

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