Big Blue batters ‘Boys

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As they prepared to face off with Dallas in a must-win contest, the Giants knew their collective backs were placed firmly against the proverbial wall. Boy did they ever come out swinging. The rival Cowboys were on the receiving end of Big Blue's battery of punches, as New York stayed very much alive in the playoff race via a 37-7 victory over poor, defenseless Dallas.

"I am proud of this group," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "This team went out and they fought and they went after it. A lot of guys showed some guts out there. I was just very proud of this team and the way they played."

"Every game we've played came down to the wire," said MLB Micheal Barrow, who posted a game-high 13 tackles and a game-altering sack and forced fumble.

Before the Giants even took the field, the Eagles had already clinched the NFC East by virtue of their win over the Redskins. But the Giants Stadium crowd of 78,698 enjoyed scoreboard watching, as both New Orleans and Atlanta fell in early games. Many fans might still have been settling into their seats as Big Blue exploded for 21 first-quarter points for the first time since they hung three TDs on Green Bay in December of 1986.

That Giants team went on to capture Super Bowl XXI. This year's version would be plenty content just accepting the NFC's final wildcard berth. And after being left for dead only a couple weeks back, they may find themselves in that unlikely position after all.

Things were going so well for New York that backup QB Jesse Palmer entered the contest with 13:02 to play. The win was New York's most lopsided regular-season victory since Big Blue blasted the Redskins, 41-7 in Washington on Oct. 10, 1993.

"Maybe it was our kind of day," Fassel said. "We've had enough of them that went the other way. Maybe it was just our turn, but I felt like this team was going to go out and play well."

Fassel was well aware of the results of both the other games that affected his club's wildcard hopes. He had a pipeline to New York's public relations VP Pat Hanlon before the game, then received updates on the field from team trainer Ronnie Barnes. Once Fassel knew both games broke in his club's direction, which was around the middle of the first quarter, he let each of his units know, offense first, then the defense.

"I told them ‘this isn't over until we say it's over,' " Fassel said. "Obviously with both of those teams losing today and us wining, I think it puts us back in the race."

"I think it helped," QB Kerry Collins said. "I think it definitely carried us through the second half. Obviously we had a good first half, but we wanted to make sure we closed the deal because we could make some significant ground. I think we were definitely motivated by it."

Ron Dayne had his best game of the season, gaining 80 yards on 19 carries with two TDs, while Tiki Barber chipped in with 81 yards and a score. Collins was efficient, completing 13-of-27 tosses for 190 yards.

"I thought Ron played really well," Fassel said.

"It felt good to get a win most of all," Dayne said. "We have to keep this going. But it's always great to get into the end zone."

Defensively, New York came within 1:56 of posting its first shutout of Dallas since 1989, when they topped the Cowboys, 15-0, on Dec. 16, 1989.

"It's hard to shut out any team in the NFL," said SS Shaun Williams, who turned in an interception to go with five tackles.

Dallas' offensive stars aren't what they were, and New York was able to limit the NFL's all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith to a mere 32 yards. And as for the Cowboys QB/pitcher Chad Hutchinson, let's just say as a quarterback he's a heck of a baseball player. Hutchinson connected on only 16 of his 40 passes for 161 yards, one meaningless TD and two INTs.

The Giants pressured the green signal-caller every chance they could.

"We felt we could cover their wide receivers man-to-man and that gave us the opportunity to give them more pressure, because of our confidence in our secondary," FS Omar Stoutmire said.

Without openly bragging or criticizing, several Giants defenders admitted that they got in the young QB's head, and that the rest of the defeated Cowboys followed.

"It seemed like they accepted defeat by the end of the third quarter," Williams said.

New York scored easily on its first drive, moving 63 yards in 11 plays. Collins was four-of-six for 46 yards along the way. Barber capped the march by scoring behind a key block by reserve lineman Omar Smith, who reported as an eligible receiver and blew open a crease for Barber.

The Giants doubled their lead in impressive fashion. Barrow came storming up the middle and drilled Hutchinson, forcing a fumble. RDE Kenny Holmes picked up the loose ball at midfield, and returned it all the way for the score, the first TD of his career. Holmes put a good move on Dallas RB Troy Hambrick, before waltzing across the goal line ahead of Hutchinson.

"I was trying to throw some blocks for him," Williams laughed. "He did a good job on the return. Kenny is a good athlete."

"It got us momentum and for Kenny to come out and make a big play like that and Micheal Barrow to get that ball out was a huge play," Collins said. "We kept right on rolling so that was a very big play and I like the way we finished the game as well."

Barber helped continue the onslaught when he busted a 60-yard run down the left sideline, moving the ball to the Dallas 8-yard line. Dayne did the rest, gaining four yards, then scoring from four yards out on the next play.

New York continued to pile it on. On their first play from scrimmage in the second quarter, Fassel had Collins go up top, and WR Amani Toomer was able to beat Dallas CB Derek Ross for a 33-yard gain down the right sideline. That set up Matt Bryant's 38-yard field goal, which extended New York's improbable lead to 24-0 with 12:37 to play in the first half.

With 99 yards, Toomer topped the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth consecutive season.

"He has improved and improved," Fassel said. "He's become the spotlight. To go over 1,000 yards with how the season's gone, it's a tribute to how far he's come."

"Not a lot of Giant receivers have done it," Toomer said. "It shows consistency and it shows a little bit of the kind of player that I want to be. I'm out there trying to play my best and 1,000 yards just keeps happening."

New York tacked on three more points coming out of the half when Bryant booted through a 35-yarder. Barber's 30-yard catch-and-run moved Big Blue into scoring position.

Return specialist Delvin Joyce wasn't going to miss out on all the fun. Late in the third quarter, he returned a punt 37 yards to the Cowboys 15. That set up Bryant's third field goal, from 31 yards out, and a 30-0 cushion.

"On punt return, I have a lot of confidence because of the guys blocking out there," Joyce said. "I know they'll pick up their blocks when I catch the ball. I trust my teammates. It's huge to get good field position on a punt."

Dayne barreled over from the three for New York's final points, before Dallas averted the shutout on a nine-yard Hutchinson pass to Cowboys rookie receiver Antonio Bryant in the waning moments.

So, New York's improbable post-season run continues.

"We knew coming into the game that we still had a chance," Williams said. "This gives us even more confidence that we're still in this."

"Coach Fassel had a good gameplan for this team," Barber added. "We had a solid effort on all three sides of the ball. It was a solid effort and it gives us an opportunity to possibly sneak into the playoffs."

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