It wasn't pretty, but New York (2-1) was able to sneak out of Giants Stadium with a hard-fought 9-6 victory in front of an announced crowd of 78,551.
"Most games in this league are fights to the finish," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "We fought for this game and we got it."
But they needed their newfound hero to do so. Midway through training camp, Fassel said that he hadn't even given kicker Matt Bryant a second thought. After Bryant's game-winning 47-yard field goal with 2:04 to play, Fassel was singing a different tune.
"I'm very proud of Matt Bryant; he came through for us – big." Fassel said. "Thank God he's with us."
"This is every kicker's dream-type deal," said Bryant, who also hit from 33 and 21 yards out. "I was telling some of the guys around me that I was going to kick a 53-yarder to win the game…I was pretty close."
The Giants moved the ball sufficiently enough, but as usual, their red zone production was less than stellar. In three trips inside Seattle's 20-yard line, the Giants managed a mere six points out of a possible 21.
"We have to have more patience down there," Fassel said. "The running game isn't helping us."
No it's not. Coming into the contest, New York was well aware that Seattle was the league's worst defense at stopping the run – by far. The ‘Hawks had surrendered an astounding 470 rushing yards through the first two games. Yet Big Blue with 94 rushing yards didn't come near the 235 per game clip Seattle had been surrendering.
But for all New York's misgivings, this game came down to the defense – and they didn't disappoint.
"I thought our overall defense played well," Fassel said.
"Defensively, we played exceptionally well," CB Jason Sehorn added.
It was the first time in close to two seasons that Big Blue has won a game without scoring a touchdown. In December of 2000, they topped the Redskins in Washington, 9-7, on three Brad Daluiso field goals.
"Anytime you can hold a team like that to six points," MLB Micheal Barrow said, "that is always good. They had some opportunities where they moved the ball a little bit and had good field position. But we just willed ourselves, we were like, ‘they are not going to score.' "
New York limited the Seahawks to only seven first downs and 145 total yards, sacking Seattle QB Trent Dilfer twice and sealing the game with Will Peterson's interception with 1:35 to play.
Peterson also clinched New York's other victory, picking off St. Louis' Kurt Warner in the waning moments the week prior.
"You look at Will Peterson," Sehorn said. "That's two weeks in a row the game has ended in his hands. That's not a bad place to be."
The Giants also captured the game within the game. When Big Blue opted to draft Ron Dayne in the first round of the 2000 draft, they chose against selecting Shaun Alexander, who had a breakout season for the Seahawks last year. On Sunday, Dayne not only won the war, but the battle as well.
The Giants D limited Alexander to 37 yards on 14 carries, for a paltry 2.6-yard average. He's now struggled through his first three games of this campaign.
Dayne, on the other hand, had easily his best performance of the young season. He came into the contest with 28 total rushing yards. Against Seattle he rolled up 48 on the ground (on 11 carries for a 4.4-yard average) and added an eight-yard catch as well.
Especially gratifying for Dayne must have been his final two carries. He gained six and then five yards as New York ground out the one first down it needed in order to run out the clock on Seattle's upset attempt.
"I didn't run any different," Dayne said. "I was just able to get some yards. I just went out to play hard. Whenever they need me, I am here.
"I felt good today, but I feel good because we won."
"I told him to just run, run hard, run quick, run behind your pads," Fassel said. "I thought he ran hard today."
And it was a good thing that he did. The ‘Hawks successfully bottled up Tiki Barber on the ground, for the most part, limiting him to 50 yards on 21 carries. But Barber hurt them through the air, catching seven passes for an additional 59 yards.
WR Amani Toomer paced the offense with four catches for 100 yards, while QB Kerry Collins was efficient; completing 23-of-38 passes for 282 yards. Collins had his streak of five consecutive 300-yard games snapped against Seattle.
Once again, the Giants captured the all-important turnover battle, by refusing to give up the pigskin. Dilfer only had one INT, but it was a costly one. The Giants, who dominated the time of possession 36:50-23:10, also played a much smarter game, being flagged only three times to six infractions for Seattle.
New York's defensive onslaught began early, as SLB Brandon Short sacked Dilfer for a six-yard loss on the Seattle's first play from scrimmage.
But it was the ‘Hawks who managed the first six points of the game. Rian Lindell drilled a pair of field goals – from 42 and 27 yards out.
Seattle's second field goal came following some good defense of their own. Seattle sacked Collins on successive plays, with Rocky Bernard and Antonio Cochran doing the honors.
Very late in the first half, the Giants found themselves trailing 6-0 and with very little offensive production to show for it. That was until Toomer got free in Seattle's secondary.
Even though it didn't immediately lead to points, Toomer's 49-yard gain gave the Giants offense some life. On a third-and-12 play from their own 12-yard line, Collins dropped back and found Toomer, who had split the defensive efforts of DBs Ken Lucas and Reggie Tongue.
"We needed that to pick us up," Toomer said. "The play actually came in all screwed up, but we took care of it."
Following that big play, Big Blue moved all the way down to the Seattle one-yard line. On third down, Collins' pass for TE Jeremy Shockey was incomplete. On fourth down, Fassel elected to go for it instead of putting the almost sure points on the board. While the decision could be debated, the result couldn't.
Barber ran a play that was supposed to go between the right guard and tackle, yet he was forced to bounce the play outside when there was no opening. Seahawks CB Shawn Springs was waiting and dropped Barber for a four-yard loss.
"I was willing to take the risk and really put some momentum into my team," Fassel said. "At that point in time, when I decided to go for it, I asked Sean [Payton] what are you going to call and I got the right answer. That was a play that we had worked on all week. I thought it was going to be a really good play. I thought we were going to score on them."
Fassel was wrong, but fortunately for him, New York regrouped at halftime and wouldn't be denied.
"You have to erase everything in the first quarter, second quarter and move on," Toomer said. "It's a four-quarter game. You have to treat it as such."
The Giants finally got on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter. Big Blue used 16 plays to move 69 yards, but had to settle for a 33-yard Bryant field goal. The Giants converted two big third downs on the march – a Collins 21-yard pass to Shockey on third-and-15 and a 19-yarder to Toomer on third-and-13. Barber chipped in an 11-yard run before the drive stalled.
As the third quarter wound down, the Giants defense started to step up big-time. RDE Kenny Holmes dropped Alexander for a seven-yard loss.
On Seattle's next possession, LDE Michael Strahan posted his first sack of the 2002 campaign, when he dumped Dilfer near Seattle's goal line. That led to a Seahawks punt that left the Giants at their own 46.
On the first play of the final period, Barber took a screen pass and turned it into a 33-yard gain. Of course, New York bogged down in the red zone and had to settle for Bryant's 21-yarder that knotted the score at six.
Big Blue's game-winning drive covered 65 yards and 11 plays. Again, New York's big receivers came through when they were needed. On third-and-four from their own 11, Toomer took a short pass and turned it into a 20-yard gain. Shockey then gained 10 yards on third-and-six. On New York's next third down, Barber was thrown for a loss on another wide running play, but Bryant was true from 47 yards out to win the game.
It wasn't impressive, but the Giants certainly weren't apologizing.
"It doesn't matter how many points you score as long as we score more than them," Collins said.