The numbers paint a blah picture of the Giants' rookie running back. But few partisans are concerned, including Dayne.
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001
Going down, Mr. Dayne?
Well, yes. Giants rookie running back Ron Dayne's numbers -- carries and yards -- dropped precipitously during the final four games of the regular season, all victories.
By the time the Giants clinched home-field advantage for the playoffs with their 28-25 victory over Jacksonville in the finale, Dayne seemed no bigger than the Heisman Trophy he won at Wisconsin.
That's 99 yards over that four-game stretch.
Warrick Dunn (Bucs), Mike Anderson (Broncos), Corey Dillon (Bengals) and Curtis Martin (Jets) exceeded 200 yards apiece Dec. 3, when Dayne's descent was picking up speed.
With the pace he was on through 11 games, he would have finished with 895 yards, breaking Tuffy Leemans' team rookie record of 830 set in 1936. Dayne finished with 770 yards -- 24th among NFL rushers and two places (and 236 yards) behind teammate Tiki Barber.
Most telling is that it took Barber 15 fewer carries to roll up 1,006 yards.
"It isn't like I've stopped running or I've gained weight or I've been sick," Dayne said. "Tiki's been out there performing well. I get in and get what I can do. It's third and 2, get us first down maybe. I'm happy as long as we're winning. I have no complaints. Never do. ... We all are doing a great job. I feel that I've been pretty good. Actually, I feel real good about my performance."
Not everyone agrees. The New York media have, umm, expressed displeasure with Dayne's performance of late. Perhaps some criticism will help pull him out of his funk. It has turned him around before.
Midway through 1999, his senior season at Wisconsin, Sports Illustrated had some unkind things to say about him, putting Dayne on its list of the season's biggest disappointments. Dayne said he taped it to the inside of his locker and looked at it every day. That, he said, motivated him to play harder.
He finished the season with 2,034 yards, 20 touchdowns, the Division I-A career regular-season rushing record (6,397 yards), the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award as the best college player and the Doak Walker Award as best running back. Some college teams stacked linemen and linebackers -- and sometimes even defensive backs -- at the line to stop him, and even that didn't always work. Knocking down multiple tacklers was Dayne's forte.
Of late, the first tackle has been the only one needed to bring him down.
Logic might dictate that a team should ride the horse that got it this far -- namely, the Giants should stick with Barber during the playoffs and keep the 5-foot-10, 253-pound Dayne in as a blocking back.
Coach Jim Fassel has other ideas.
"Tiki has been making plays all over the place, but we'll get Ron going again," Fassel told the Record of Hackensack, N.J. "I have not lost confidence in him. I think he can do it. I don't think this (playoff pressure) is too large for him right now. If I've seen a guy do it and he's got the right attitude, he'll do it again."
Fassel said Dayne has to find the running lanes more quickly and attack them faster.
"One of the things I like about him is that he is a patient runner," the coach said. "Some backs hit it too quick and don't read the block. Sometimes I think he's trying to hit the exact hole. But during the game (against the Jaguars), I told him to "hit the thing at 100 miles per hour, keep your head up and your pads down, and just force the hole.' "
A sprained right big toe might slow Barber for the Giants' first playoff game since 1997, Fassel's first season. The Giants earned a wild-card spot and collapsed against the Vikings, losing 23-22 when Minnesota scored 10 points in the final 11/2 minutes.
Barber said Dayne is learning and will be a good running back. "He's going to be a guy who carries us this year in the playoffs and in the future," Barber said. "Few teams have found a way to use two backs as effectively as we have. Ron is going to get better. You have to believe that, and we do believe it."