Titanic defeat for Big Blue

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – All Michael Strahan had to say after New York's numbing 32-29 overtime loss to Tennessee was this: "The offense was great; we played like crap on defense."

Strahan might have oversimplified matters, but certainly not by much. New York's defense, playing most of the game without four starters, couldn't tackle anyone in blowing a 12-point fourth-quarter lead. The Giants led by eight with 2:21 to play, yet allowed a game-tying TD and two-point conversion with only nine seconds left.

Then Big Blue couldn't move the ball in OT before being booted right out of Giants Stadium by Joe Nedney's game-winning 38-yarder.

Head Coach Jim Fassel's controversial, questionable and downright foolish decision to go for a two-point conversion early in the final period certainly didn't help matters.

"That was one of the most disappointing losses I have ever been involved with," Fassel said.

Understandably so. Just two weeks ago, New York was poised to make a legitimate run at the NFC East title. Now, New York basically needs to win all four of its remaining games and get some help in the process.

"This just knocks you down to 6-6 and puts you further away from your goal of making the playoffs," said Jason Sehorn, who started in place of Will Peterson.

For the Giants defense, which surrendered an alarming 476 total yards, their new goal should be to learn how to cover and tackle.

At no point was it more evident that Big Blue couldn't stick, wrap or drive than on Tennessee's final drive of each half. The Titans stormed 63 yards down the field in only seconds to grab a halftime lead and then put together an 81-yard drive capped by a successful two-point conversion to force the extra session.

When handed the game, Titans QB Steve McNair, who threw for 334 yards and three TDs, knew what to do with it.

The Giants won the overtime coin toss and elected to take the ball. After all, New York's offense had scored on every possession in the second half.

But when the game reached its highest point, Big Blue's offense reached its lowest. As good as the offense had been, a TD instead of a FG with little more than two minutes to play would have slammed the door shut on Tennessee.

However, the offense still had overtime to make amends. A solid kickoff return by Delvin Joyce set New York up at its own 40-yard line. A 14-yard reception by Ron Dixon was offset by a pass interference call on Amani Toomer (five catches, 104 yards) and the Giants were forced to punt.

The Titans didn't have to be told twice that the game was theirs. Tennessee crisply moved 60 yards in seven plays before Nedney nailed his 38-yard FG five minutes into the extra session.

"It was a nice smooth field-goal attempt," Nedney said. "Nice snap. Nice hold. Great blocking. The kick is good and we're out of here."

And so are the Giants. The game was a must-win for both clubs. Apparently Tennessee took the word ‘must' to heart a little more than their New York counterparts.

"We put ourselves in a hole," said TE Dan Campbell, who chipped in with a TD catch. "We had every opportunity to win this game and we didn't do it in the end. They played better than we did down the stretch."

"They played better than us," LB Brandon Short added. "They beat us, period. We needed to play better at the end of the game defensively, we needed to execute and do our job. The defense had a chance to rise up and do it and we didn't."

Now it appears New York's job will be to play spoiler during the season's final four games. And, as usual, they have no one but themselves to blame.

Strahan kicked things off strongly for the Giants, sacking McNair and forcing a fumble that Dhani Jones recovered. Collins completed a 14-yard pass to Dixon on third-and-11, then after Collins' ensuing third-and-11 pass sailed over Dixon's head, New York settled for a 38-yard Matt Bryant field goal.

The Titans answered by embarking on a monumental 18-play, 86-yard march, which ended with Tennessee grabbing a 7-3 lead. Robert Holcombe chipped in big on third down, twice moving the sticks via a 13-yard catch and a three-yard run.

The ironic part of the march was that Fassel probably cost his club four points. With the Titans stopped short on fourth down, Fassel called two consecutive timeouts to ensure that Tennessee kicked into the wind. Instead, the Titans opted to go for it on fourth-and-five from the 28 instead of attempting a 45-yard field goal. They got it. McNair hit WR Derrick Mason (12 catches, 116 yards) on a quick slant for nine yards to keep the drive alive.

The Giants appeared to have dodged a bullet when Tennessee had a 15-yard Drew Bennett catch to the one-yard line negated by a penalty. But the Titans again successfully navigated a fourth down when McNair fell forward for two yards while needing only inches.

McNair capped the drive by hitting Mason for a six-yard TD. Tennessee's leading receiver shook off Jason Sehorn before getting open in front of MLB Micheal Barrow for the score.

Good fortune smiled upon the Giants the next time Tennessee had the ball. Following a terrible 17-yard punt by Matt Allen, the Titans were on the move again. However, their apparent 32-yard TD catch by Mason was negated by a delay of game penalty. Then Nedney drilled a 54-yard field goal try right into the back of one of his offensive linemen.

Believe it or not, the Giants turned that good fortune into points, moving 55 yards in 10 plays to regain the lead, 10-7, shortly before halftime.

The key play of the march came when Tiki Barber picked up a blitzing Tank Williams on third-and-six, giving Collins time to find Toomer for a 26-yard gain.

Two pass interference penalties on Tennessee – Andre Dyson on Dixon, 29 yards on third-and-25; Samari Rolle on Toomer in the end zone – set up Campbell's first TD catch of the season.

But the Titans streaked down the field – moving 63 yards in four plays almost effortlessly – to take the lead into halftime. McNair, who scrambled for 13 yards to kick-start the march, hit WR Drew Bennett for a 26-yard TD. Bennett easily got behind Giants reserve CB Ralph Brown.

Unbelievably, the Giants finished the first half with minus-six rushing yards. So when they came out after halftime, they came out firing. Collins hooked up with Toomer for a 25-yard gain, with 15 additional yards awarded for a facemask foul on Titans S Aric Morris. On the next play, Collins connected with Dixon on a post pattern for 24 yards and the score, which put New York up 17-14.

The Giants extended the lead with a 36-yard Bryant field goal midway through the third period. The trey was set up by Dixon's 28-yard catch on a ball that ricocheted off Titans LB Peter Sirmon.

New York continued to roll, scoring on its third consecutive possession. Big Blue moved 88 yards in nine plays. Barber, who capped the march by diving in from the one, busted a 42-yard run down the left sideline. His TD was set up by yet another pass interference call on Tennessee, this one on Tank Williams for shoving Shockey in the end zone. Here's where Fassel failed – miserably. His chart told him when up by 12 points to go for two. The Giants went for two and failed. Of course hindsight is 20/20. But so is logic and common sense. One extra point, which Fassel squandered by his decision, is all New York needed to win the game.

The Titans responded, punching it in on a one-yard TD run by Eddie George to slice New York's lead to 26-21 with 7:34 to play. That capped a 72-yard drive and kept Tennessee in the game.

The Giants continued to score every time they touched the ball in the second half, but they had to settle for three on this occasion. And it would cost them. Collins completions to Jeremy Shockey (21 yards) and Toomer (24) aided the 78-yard march, which culminated in Bryant's 19-yard field goal.

The Giants had a first-and-goal from the Titans one, yet couldn't get it in. Barber was stopped for no gain and thrown for a one-yard loss on consecutive plays before Collins's third-down pass to Charles Stackhouse fell incomplete.

"We get down to the one, we have to punch that thing in," Collins said. "We didn't get it in. We got three and allowed them to be in a position to tie the game."

"We score a touchdown down there, and it's over," LG Rich Seubert said. "But only scoring a field goal gave them a chance to get back in it. It was a tough loss."

Big Blue left the door wide open for the Titans, and they stepped right through.

McNair completed two third-down passes on the game-tying march. He then connected with Bennett for 20 yards to move the ball inside New York's 10-yard line. McNair capped the drive with a nine-yard strike to TE Frank Wycheck with only nine seconds to play. The catch was reviewed by the review assistant, but upheld.

Still, Tennessee needed two points to tie. With Barrow out of the game due to a concussion, they'd have no problem. McNair called his own number and ran right up the middle for the conversion, which sent the game into overtime.

"There were two plays called and I chose the best one at that time," McNair explained.

We all know what happened next. Overtime started and the Giants season – for all intents and purposes – ended.

"It is one of the most disappointing losses I have been involved with," Collins said.


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