Barber, Collins, Dixon lead Giants

MINNEAPOLIS – All afternoon, you just knew the Vikings weren't going to go away quietly. They didn't. But when all was said and done it was the Giants prevailing in what was basically a must-win contest.

Big Blue's special teams gave away a total of eight points while New York's defense surrendered 159 yards and two TDs in a five-play period down the stretch. That buoyed the Vikes as Minnesota stormed back and took a late lead in front of 64,005 raucous fans at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

However, with the game, and potentially the season, on the line, New York was able to move 80 yards in 10 plays for the game-winning TD, an eight-yard run by RB Tiki Barber with 2:43 to play.

"I was very proud of the way we came back," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "Our offense took the ball down and our guys really gutted it out and made plays and that's tough to do on the road…come back…they had all the momentum but I'm proud this unit they did that."

QB Kerry Collins led a balanced attack with a 25-of-35, 300-yard, two-TD showing.

"I was proud of our guys; we kept our poise" Collins said.

Collins was probably speaking of a couple guys in particular – Barber and WR Ron Dixon, thrust into the starting lineup due to a season-ending injury to Ike Hilliard.

Barber had a season high 127 yards on 24 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per tote. And Dixon notched his first-ever 100-yard game, hauling in four passes for 107 yards.

"Ron Dixon came through," Fassel said. "He stepped it up two games in a row. We need that. He stepped up and played big."

New York's win, coupled with Philadelphia's blowout defeat to Indianapolis, moved Big Blue within a game of the NFC East lead.

The victory, however, was dampened by the loss of rookie WR Tim Carter for the season. New York's second-round pick ruptured his right Achilles' tendon while starting to run a pass pattern.

Defensively, the Giants did just enough. They surrendered 167 rushing yards to Vikes RB Michael Bennett, but they survived Minnesota's QB switch, sacked the Vikings' signal-callers five times and were generally just glad that the offense picked them up.

"That was great to see," said DE Michael Strahan, who chipped in with three tackles and a sack. "That was a huge job by our offense. There's a whole different attitude."

The Giants caught a couple breaks early on in the game, but couldn't do anything with them. First, they were awarded a first down when Minnesota LB Patrick Chukwurah was called for holding. Instead of losing the ball following a punt, Big Blue retained possession.

Then, an obvious and apparent interception by Minnesota was reversed when Fassel challenged the call. Collins' third-down pass hit Vikes DT Fred Robbins in the shoulder and deflected into the air. The ball ricocheted directly to TE Dan Campbell, but Vikings CB Eric Kelly stripped the ball from Campbell, who was falling to the ground. However, the officials saw it differently.

Minnesota must have been steaming. But they then received a break of their own. Referee Tony Corrente, who spent way too long in incorrectly reversing the original call, then reviewed where the ball should be spotted. Corrente blew it again, ruling that Campbell wasn't past the first-down marker. After all that, the Giants were forced to punt.

Later in the opening period, New York capitalized on a big-time mistake by the Vikes. Brody Liddiard sailed a punt snap well over the head of Kyle Richardson. LB Kevin Lewis pounced on the ball, giving the Giants possession at Minnesota's 23-yard line.

The Giants scored on a one-yard play-action pass to FB Charles Stackhouse. New York had to sweat out a challenge by Minnesota that Stackhouse lost control of the ball before crossing the goal line, but Corrente finally got one right and the TD stood, giving Big Blue a 7-0 lead.

"I knew I was in," said Stackhouse, who said he wasn't worried while awaiting the officials' decision. "It felt really good to get in the end zone."

On New York's next possession, Collins threw a terrible INT, New York's only turnover of the game. The Vikes were in zone coverage and Collins tried to force the ball to TE Jeremy Shockey. However, Vikes DE Kenny Mixon didn't even have to move as Collins fired the ball right into his chest.

Then Vikes WR D'Wayne Bates beat CB Will Peterson on a slant pattern for a 19-yard gain and Peterson was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness for bringing Bates down by his helmet. Vikes QB Daunte Culpepper than scrambled for 12 before the Giants held and Minnesota settled for a 20-yard field goal from Gary Anderson.

The Giants answered right back with a 72-yard TD march that was capped by the new-and-improved Ron Dayne. New York's big back took a handoff, followed Campbell through the hole and scooted untouched 30 yards for the score that extended Big Blue's lead to 13-3. New holder Tom Rouen botched another hold attempt and K Matt Bryant never even got off the PAT try.

"That was a lead play," Barber explained. "Dan was able to seal off the DE. The linebacker blitzed outside so there was no one in the middle. Ron's speed then just took over. People don't realize how fast Ron is once he gets going."

"Everybody blocked pretty well and I just took advantage," Dayne added.

The Giants were on the move again as WR Amani Toomer got open behind Kelly down the right sideline for a 46-yard gain. A little push-off by the Giants veteran receiver certainly didn't hurt matters. New York then benefited from a phantom pass interference call that Toomer drew on Minny CB Corey Chavous, but again the Giants left points on the field as Bryant's 31-yard FG try sailed wide left.

After an 11-for-11 start, Bryant has missed three of his last four FG attempts.

Minnesota's Anderson had no such trouble. His 27-yard field goal cut Big Blue's lead to 13-6.

Then, just when you didn't think it could get any worse, Rouen again failed to get down the snap and Bryant never even got to attempt a 35-yard field goal. Hindsight may certainly be 20/20, but you have to wonder why Fassel would change holders on Bryant after the youngster had connected on his first 11 FGs. In the two games since Rouen's been holding, place-kicks have been an adventure to say the least, if not a disaster.

"We had a lead and our field goal unit could have cost us the game right there," Fassel said. "We left eight points off the board there."

But the Vikings couldn't cash in on New York's misfortune, and the Giants were all too happy to add to their lead.

New York rushed down the field courtesy of a 16-yard Barber run and catches by Campbell (27 yards) and Dixon (33). An 11-yard TD catch by Toomer, who collected a fade pass behind Kelly, sealed the deal, but again Big Blue couldn't get the kick straight. With backup QB Jesse Palmer now holding, Bryant had his PAT try blocked.

The Vikings pulled Culpepper, who left with a mere 91 passing yards, and replaced him with Todd Bouman, a St. Cloud State product. On Bouman's first snap, Frank Ferrara sacked him, he fumbled and LDT Cornelius Griffin recovered the ball.

There's a reason that we've gone this far into the story without mentioning Vikings WR Randy Moss, who killed the Giants with 171 yards and three TDs in Minnesota's 28-16 win last season. It's because big-play Randy entered the fourth quarter with just one catch for only five yards. You just knew that wasn't going to last. It didn't. Moss gained 80 yards on two consecutive catches before Vikes RB Moe Williams dove over from the one to slice the Giants edge to 19-13 with 12:06 to play.

"He's a good player, he's going to make plays," SS Shaun Williams said of Moss. "But it was more things we didn't do than anything he did do."

Moss beat Peterson, who had pretty good coverage, down the left sideline for 48 yards, then got behind CB Will Allen and Williams for a 32-yard catch. Moss took a hard hit, but held onto the ball.

Bennett then delivered what could have been the knockout blow with a 78-yard TD run up the middle that gave Minnesota a 20-19 edge. The Vikes speedy back took the handoff from Bouman out of the shotgun and raced untouched into the end zone. The middle of the Giants defense was blown wide open and Williams, New York's last hope, was blocked out of the way by Moss.

"There were three guys coming at me so I really didn't know what to do," Williams explained.

For Bennett, his jaunt tied the third-longest TD run from scrimmage in Minnesota history.

But the Giants didn't die. Big Blue moved 80 yards to regain the lead in the final minutes when Barber scored from eight yards out. TE Marcellus Rivers added the two-point conversion by gathering in a pass that was tipped by Vikes LB Lemanski Hall.

The Giants didn't convert their first third down until less than four minutes remained in the game, but it was a big one. Shockey's five-yard yard grab moved the sticks on third-and-four. Two plays later, the Giants were in the end zone.

But the Vikings would receive one more chance, an opportunity that New York snuffed out in a hurry. On third-and-10, RDE Kenny Holmes beat Minnesota's number-one draft pick Bryant McKinnie for a huge sack. Holmes forced Bouman to fumble for a 20-yard loss.

"I had been getting into the backfield all night," Holmes said. "I noticed the new quarterback held the ball longer. As I was running toward him, I was thinking that if I can knock the ball out and recover it that's the game."

He knocked the ball free, but it rolled out of bounds. No worry. Minnesota punted the ball away, never to see it again. Barber gained 41 yards on four carries to kill the clock and put this one in the win column for Big Blue.

"Five and four sounds a heck of a lot better than four and five," Collins said.

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