Giants gallop past Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – No one needed to remind the Giants that this was a must-win contest. For the third straight week, New York knew it needed a victory to avoid all-but-official elimination from the NFC post-season picture. For the third straight week, Big Blue responded in resounding fashion.

New York turned two early Colts turnovers into 10 points and never looked back, blasting Indianapolis, 44-27, in front of 56,579 fans at the RCA Dome.

For the Giants, it was the most points they've scored since hanging 45 on the Saints on Sept. 24, 1995.

"It was one of those days," said Kerry Collins, who was outstanding with a QB rating of 158.3. Collins completed 23-of-29 passes for 366 yards (season high) and four TDs (career high). "It all kind of came together for us today."

Collins and several of his teammates said his performance was the best Collins has played since the 2000 NFC Championship game rout of Minnesota.

"Kerry's awesome," RB Tiki Barber said. "He's been like this for three weeks."

With the victory and Cincinnati's unlikely win over New Orleans, New York now has its fate in its own hands. Beat the NFC East champion Eagles Saturday and the Giants are in the playoffs.

"I don't know that I've ever been as proud of a team," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "Everyone seemed to bury us a long time ago, but with the outcome of the New Orleans/Cincinnati game, we finally control our own destiny."

A lot of that was because Collins and WR Amani Toomer were outstanding. "When he gets time, he's one of – if not the – best quarterback in the league," said Toomer, who caught three of Collins' four TDs. "He can do things that most QBs just flat-out can't do."

"I've never before seen a performance like Kerry's," RG Jason Whittle said. "Ever."

Thanks to Whittle and the rest of New York's offensive front five, Collins had all the time in the world. "Did he get hit today?" Toomer asked, seriously.

In preparation of facing the Colts, Offensive Line Coach Jim McNally let his troops know that they were in for their toughest test to date.

"Mouse laid it out on the table for us," Whittle said. "These guys were as good as we'd see so we had to be ready."

They were.

And so was Toomer. He established career highs with 10 catches and 204 yards.

"I think Amani made a big statement today," Collins said. "Obviously, I'm biased, but I think he should have made the Pro Bowl."

"He had a great game," added TE Jeremy Shockey, who grabbed seven passes for 116 yards. "He proved to a lot of people that he should be in the Pro Bowl."

By the way, did we even mention the defense yet?

For all the Colts offensive firepower, QB Peyton Manning and WR Marvin Harrison, the NFL's top single-season reception king, didn't seem all that scary. Most of their numbers (365 passing yards for Manning, 128 receiving yards for Harrison) came long after the Giants had salted things away.

Leading 37-12 midway through the final period, New York enjoyed garbage time for the second consecutive week.

"Some coaches won't allow their defense to change to take someone away," Jason Sehorn said. "Us? We have no problems or qualms with that. We knew Harrison was their horse and we said ‘he's not beating us.' "

"I think we played outstanding (defensively)," Fassel said. "I thought our gameplan was good, and I thought our guys played very good."

Even more impressive was the fact that New York held the high-flying Colts in check sans its best cover corner, Will Peterson. Sehorn stepped in for Peterson and didn't miss a beat.

Nor did LCB Will Allen, who was primarily responsible for holding Harrison under wraps.

"He played outstanding," Fassel said. "He played really well."

So did SLB Brandon Short, who paced New York's defense with eight tackles, an interception and two other huge plays.

"It felt good," Short said. "It's good to be able to make plays and help the team win."

As solid as the offense and defense played, New York's key win was ignited by a special teams play.

Marcellus Rivers has been an STs demon for the Giants all season long. But he certainly saved his best play of the year for last Sunday. With the Colts back to punt following their first possession, the second-year TE came crashing up the middle and got his right hand on Hunter Smith's punt. Reserve receiver Derek Dorris came up with the ball at the Indianapolis 25. After a 15-yard completion to Shockey, Big Blue had to settle for three (20-yarder by Matt Bryant) when Collins' QB keeper on third-and-goal from the three was unsuccessful. Collins took the snap and ran into his center, Chris Bober, before being stopped well short of the goal line.

Rivers told teammate Ron Dayne the night before the game that he'd get a block.

"We called ‘block' out of the gate," Rivers said. "As soon as I came through and saw him, I knew I had it. That felt really good, helping to set the tempo like that."

New York benefited from another turnover before the first period was finished. Manning never took his eyes off Harrison before throwing into double coverage. LB Dhani Jones picked off Manning's errant toss and returned it a yard to the New York 37.

The Giants marched 63 yards to a 10-0 lead. Toomer caught a 13-yard pass on third-and-seven. On the first play of the second period, Collins threw a screen to Shockey, who ran over Colts DB David Gibson en route to a 24-yard gain. Collins hit Shockey again for 10 to the Indy 4-yard line. On the next play, Barber bounced out of the pile to his left for a four-yard score.

New York survived RB Ron Dayne being stuffed for no gain on third-and-inches and a 40-yard catch by Colts TE Marcus Pollard, who got free behind MLB Micheal Barrow, and was marching again late in the second period. But Shockey lost the ball deep in Colts territory. After a 14-yard run by Dayne (46 rushing yards) and an 18-yard Toomer catch, Collins found Shockey. He caught the ball and was hit by Gibson and then LB Rob Morris in succession. Shockey bounced off both tackle tries, but lost control while trying to get a better handle on the pigskin. Colts DB Idrees Bashir picked it up at the three-yard line and returned the ball to the 24.

"When I make a play like that, I just have to go down," Shockey said.

The Giants appeared to have gotten the ball back when Shaun Williams recovered Harrison's fumble. However, Indy challenged the call and referee Dick Hantak determined that Harrison was already on the ground and had been touched down by Dhani Jones before the ball came free.

The Giants held, but gave the ball right back to the Colts when Barber fumbled at New York's 6-yard line. Colts super DE Dwight Freeney forced and recovered Barber's fumble. That led to a 20-yard field goal by Colts K Mike Vanderjagt.

"That was a great stand by our defense, to keep them out of the end zone," Barber said.

New York came out of the locker room loaded for bear. On the first play, Collins tossed the ball to Barber, who threw back to Collins, who in turn found Toomer in stride for an 82-yard TD and a 17-3 lead.

"Too many times we've gone into halftime on a bad note," Barber said. "We wanted to change that today."

"It's the best feeling when you're running down the field and know that no one can catch you," Toomer said.

New York continued to build on that momentum when Short knifed through to drop Colts RB James Mungro for a one-yard loss on a fourth-and-inches play near midfield.

The Giants took the ball there and ran. Collins hit Shockey for a 19-yard gain before he connected with Charles Stackhouse for an 18-yard touchdown. New York's rookie fullback caught the ball in the left flat at the 15 and sprinted in from there. Despite Bryant's missed PAT, the Giants had jumped ahead of Indianapolis 23-3.

"It was just a normal play where I fake a run and go out in the flat," Stackhouse said. "The ball kind of floated, and then I turned around and went full steam toward the end zone. It was a great block by (Dan Campbell). I saw the end zone and knew I had to get in."

The Colts answered with a 27-yard FG, but Big Blue extended to a 30-6 cushion with 11 seconds to play in the third period on Barber's one-yard TD dive. That capped a 69-yard, 10-play drive that unbelievably salted the game away.

In the final period, Reggie Wayne's 21-yard TD catch was offset when Mungro was stopped Short of the goal line by Brandon on Indianapolis' two-point try.

Toomer's 21-yard TD with 6:45 to play only added insult to injury.

Harrison and Wayne added late TD catches to make things slightly interesting, but it was too little, too late for Tony Dungy's unprepared Colts.

"We made some mistakes that kind of let them back in," Sehorn said.

No matter. Toomer capped his hat trick with a 27-yard TD with four minutes to play and New York was home free, one win away from a post-season berth and a playoff game the first weekend of 2003.

"We did what we had to do, but at the same time, we are not done," Michael Strahan said. "I don't think we can get too excited over it because we still have one more game to play to reach our goals. We will enjoy this win on the way home, but it's time to get ready for the Eagles."

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