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Giants sack, plunder Eagles

Donovan McNabb goes down six times as New York reaches NFC title game 20-10.

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 8, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Perhaps there was added significance to the traditional dumping of water on the winning coach Sunday.

The Giants dumped two buckets of Gatorade on coach Jim Fassel and then dumped a third on defensive coordinator John Fox. The G-Men had been dumping Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb on his back all day, so it made sense to dump water on the architects of their dominating NFC divisional playoff victory.

New York doused Philadelphia's surprising playoff run with a 20-10 victory Sunday, throwing a wet blanket on McNabb's exploits and getting touchdowns from its defense and special teams to set an early tone. It was another landmark win for a team that still believes no one is giving it the respect it deserves.

"We were laughing a minute ago," cornerback Jason Sehorn said, "that we're just fortunate that everybody plays badly when we play them because we are not a very good football team."

The victory sets the stage for an NFC championship showdown between the conference's two seeds, the No. 1 Giants and second-seeded Minnesota, at Giants Stadium Sunday. New York finished 12-4 and won the NFC East. The Vikings were NFC Central champions with an 11-5 record.

The game pits a Minnesota offense that scored 34 points Saturday against a Giants offense that failed to get in the end zone on Sunday, but New York didn't need points from its offense thanks to Sehorn and rookie returner Ron Dixon.

Dixon sparked the Giants' romp with a 97-yard kick return on the game's opening play. The Wildwood native ran untouched through a gaping hole in the coverage team, then broke to the right side and raced into the end zone.

After a Brad Daluiso 37-yard field goal at the outset of the second quarter boosted the score to 10-0, Sehorn staked his teammates to a 17-0 lead with a 32-yard interception return.

It was one of the most remarkable plays of the season, with Sehorn diving on the ground in front of Eagles receiver Torrance Small to tip the pass in the air, rolling over on his back, then snaring the carom before it hit the turf.

He alertly got up and raced into the end zone before Small could touch him down.

"When I watched it on the replay, safe to say I was fairly excited about it," Sehorn said. "It's not something you can practice, not something you can do. Just lucky. You just have to be in the right place at the right time and have it work out. If I bat it the wrong way, it goes out of bounds. It just happened to stay there for a while."

The touchdowns by Dixon and Sehorn were highlights, with the Giants offense struggling almost as much as Philadelphia's. Three fumbles cost New York scoring opportunities and the Eagles defense held the Giants to 237 yards. But the G-Men held the ball for 36 minutes, 9 seconds, providing the defense with a well-deserved rest.

Clearly, the Giants' domination on defense was the theme of the game. McNabb looked nothing like the quarterback who dazzled the Bucs with his playmaking ability in the Eagles' 21-3 wild-card victory Dec. 31. Using an array of blitz packages, the Giants sacked McNabb six times and hurried or knocked him down on at least 20 other plays.

McNabb, who provided 75 percent of the Eagles offense during the regular season, rushed for 17 yards and completed 20 of 41 passes for 181 yards. Philadelphia had 186 yards in total offense and converted two of its 15 third-down opportunities.

"Our defense was phenomenal," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "I've seen our defense play well at times, but I don't think they have ever gone on the field and just taken over the game like that. They were unbelievable, even in bad field position it didn't matter."

There were two keys to the defensive success. The Giants used a spy, a player who would shadow McNabb's every move, on many occasions. Sometimes it was linebacker Michael Barrow, but on other occasions, rookie defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin would keep an eye on McNabb.

Defensive end Michael Strahan said the other key was taking an aggressive approach against the second-year quarterback.

"I think everybody is amazed because even when I watch him on film, he has other teams that let him out the pocket and they don't have as much success against him," Strahan said. "It's like they're just waiting for him to run. I don't think we do that. We go after him and if anything, we try to make him run and we just always have someone there to make the play.

"I think one of the biggest parts of our plan is don't be afraid to rush him."

Now the Giants, who most experts did not choose as a favorite to win the NFC East, are one victory from respect and a Super Bowl berth at Raymond James Stadium.

Asked if his team ranks among the other greats who have represented the NFC at the Super Bowl, Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said, "The only thing that matters is we're playing for the championship."

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