After Arizona missed a field goal and seemingly a chance to take any points into the locker room at halftime, the Giants were all set to kneel down and bleed the remaining 14 seconds off the clock, and head into the second half on top.
Twice they had discussed what to do, and twice decided to run out the clock.
But then, Head Coach Jim Fassel – with help from Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton – decided to get aggressive…and the Giants paid for it – dearly.
Fassel instructed Payton to go for it, to try to get three extra points on the board before the half.
What happened next continues to boggle the mind. Collins dropped back and fired the ball right into the gut of Cardinals safety Justin Lucas, who returned the gift 38 yards for his first NFL touchdown. Just like that, the ballgame was tied and became a toss-up to be decided in the second half.
"It was huge going from 7-0 up going into halftime and getting the ball when we come out to being tied," Collins said.
Here's how it looked to Lucas, the fourth-year player from Abilene Christian.
"They came out in a (shot) gun formation, trips to our right; I lined up on the left," Lucas said. "What they like to do is have Tiki run to the strong side. He actually ran to the weak side, which was a flat route, which is my responsibility, and Kerry was looking at him the whole way. So I jumped the route, got a hand on it and luckily scored."
Collins was asked after the game if he were surprised when the play call came in. He said he was.
The fateful call was ‘77 W deep out, 100 personnel.'
Collins' options on the play are a short out to Tiki Barber, who lined up in the backfield and ran a short ‘arrow' pattern to the right sideline. The deep option was an out pattern run by Ike Hilliard.
"They were in prevent [defense]," Collins explained. "I thought the safety would go back with Ike. I didn't see the guy. I didn't anticipate that he'd jump it the way that he did. "I have to be smarter than that." Yes, but he also has to be taken out of situations like that.
After the game, Fassel took all the blame, but appeared clearly upset with the decision-making of both Payton and Collins.
"That was a bad move on my part – a bad move," Fassel stated. "To trust them to go for it and not have that happen.
"The last thing I said is ‘be careful.' " Fassel said that he's been in a similar situation in the past and his team scored a touchdown on the second play.
"It's supposed to go down the field," he continued. "We only have 14 seconds. We should have three plays – two 20-yard completions or so and we kick a long field goal." Payton said that if Collins had to do it over again, he should throw the ball further outside. "It made me sick to my stomach that we gave them a cheap seven like that," he said.
Here's the intended receiver's take on the pivotal play: "The guy just made a play," Barber said. "It wasn't really deflating. It gave them momentum."
Momentum that they'd ride all the way until New York had dropped a crushing defeat to their perennial patsies.
"I was thinking, ‘Why didn't we kneel? Why was the pass thrown?" Barber wondered aloud. Barber then added that he didn't question the call, just his club's execution.
However, it was apparent after the game that most of the locker room believed New York's staff had let them down. Sure Collins threw the ill-advised pass, but why was he even given the opportunity to?
Adding insult to injury for Collins was the fact that his diving attempt to prevent Lucas from reaching the end zone fell just short. With only four seconds to play, knocking him out shy of the goal line definitely could have saved four – if not seven – points.
"I thought I might have kept him out but I saw him hit the pylon so I figured it would be a touchdown," Collins said.
"I didn't want to get hawked down by the quarterback because my teammates would have made fun of me," Lucas said. "I dove a little bit inside, and Kerry kept me out, and the ball hit the pylon – touchdown!"
While New York had the whole second half to get back on track, it never happened. Amani Toomer said the play had no big carryover affect. "It was only 7-7," he said. "It felt like it was a new game."
Toomer's take was in the minority, and quite possibly laced with political correctness. Others directly questioned the thinking of Fassel and Payton as opposed to laying the blame on Collins.
The defensive players took the high road, refusing to pin the blame for the loss on their offensive counterparts who left them out to melt in the Arizona heat for much of the second half. However, many hinted that the Giants probably should have played it safe before the half. New York had three options – kneel, throw relatively deep or gamble. They gambled and paid the price. A very, very steep price when you consider the potential down-the-road ramifications this loss may have.
"Coach Fassel said you have to throw it downfield or park it somewhere [throw it away]," Collins said. "But I was the one that threw the ball." Yes, but Fassel should have just instructed Collins to take a knee. Then Payton and Collins wouldn't have been able to commit their miscues.