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Giants win 41-0, and even they can hardly believe it

Kerry Collins leads the destruction of the Vikings as New York heads to Tampa, where it won Super Bowl XXV.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 15, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Around here, they make you believe they can see the future.

Their soothsaying coach guaranteed his Giants would make the playoffs.

Their Nostradamus linebacker went so far as to envision a score of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Vikings and place it under a podium before kickoff.

Before the Giants take care of business on the scoreboard, they consult the Ouija board.

But some things, nobody could predict.

Start with quarterback Kerry Collins leading a team to the Super Bowl. And the Giants blasting the Minnesota Vikings 41-0.

Collins passed for 381 yards and five touchdowns, completing an improbable journey from the NFL scrap heap to hero in his first full season as Giants starter.

"If you had told me we would have won by 41 points, I probably would've said no way," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said.

"That's the sweetest thing about this. I don't know if anybody picked us to win this week. We proved everybody wrong, and by the margin that we did."

The victory advances the Giants (14-4) to Super Bowl XXXV against the Baltimore Ravens, returning them to the NFL title game for the first time in 10 years. Coincidentally, they will play in the city where they beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

Collins against the Ravens' Trent Dilfer is a pairing for sentimentalists.

Both first-round draft picks once were considered saviors and now are survivors.

At Carolina, Collins was labeled a racist, a drunk and a quitter.

After a brief stint with the New Orleans Saints, his career was resurrected by the Giants a year ago.

On Sunday, he rewarded them by going 28-for-39. His touchdowns tied a record for the most in an NFC championship.

"You get beat up and you get beat down and people call you stuff and call you 'loser.' It's going to make you tough," Collins said. "It's going to make you tough, and that's why it made the moment sweet."

The story line had been whether the Giants could stop Vikings receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter. But Giants receivers Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer stole the show. Hilliard caught 10 passes for 155 yards, and his touchdown receptions of 46 and 7 yards to start and finish the first half made it 34-0 at halftime. Toomer, who wasn't sure he could play Thursday because of an ankle sprain, caught six passes for 88 yards.

"We're championship receivers," Toomer said. "Today, they weren't."

If there was a bigger surprise than the Giants' explosion, it was the way their defense shut down the Vikings' playmakers.

A week ago, defensive coordinator John Fox cooked up a scheme to contain athletic quarterback Donovan McNabb that worked to perfection in a 20-10 dismantling of the Eagles.

But nobody expected this.

The Giants harassed Daunte Culpepper into three interceptions, sacked him four times and held him to 78 yards passing.

Moss and Carter weren't a factor. Moss caught two passes for 18 yards in the first half and was never heard from again. Carter did not catch a pass until the fourth quarter.

It didn't help that before Moss and Carter stepped on the field, the Vikings trailed 14-0.

Collins needed four plays and 1:57 to drive the Giants 74 yards for their first touchdown, a bullet to Hilliard. And when the Vikings' Moe Williams fumbled the ensuing kickoff at his 18, Collins needed one play to loft a scoring pass to fullback Greg Comella.

"When you step on the football field and it's 14-0, the game plan changes and so does theirs," said Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn, who had a quiet day at the office covering Moss. "All of a sudden the running game they have is obsolete. You can't erase deficits with a running game, you have to throw the football.

"For us, we were able to put more people in coverage and make it difficult for them. If they wanted to throw the ball, it was going to be 5- and 10-yard outs. And they really didn't want to do that up and down the field."

Meanwhile, Collins played more like a Pro Bowl quarterback than Culpepper, who starts for the NFC in the all-star game in Hawaii.

By the middle of the third quarter, Collins had more completions (27) than Culpepper had passing yards (24).

Collins learned Monday from offensive coordinator Sean Payton that the Giants were going to attack the Vikings' overmatched secondary. Saturday night, they scripted the first 15 plays, and 10 were passes.

"We were going to throw it early and often and down the field," Payton said. "We didn't have to be Superman today, but we had to be special early. We thought the first quarter was going to be an important time for us to flex our muscle a little bit."

The Vikings didn't regroup at halftime; they surrendered.

Culpepper was sacked by safety Shaun Williams and on the first play of the third quarter lost a fumble that was recovered by Cornelius Griffin. He was intercepted for the second time on the Vikings' next possession by safety Sam Garnes.

Those turnovers helped the Giants pad their lead. After Culpepper's fumble, Collins threw his fifth touchdown, a 7-yard strike to Toomer.

"I was just talking to Daunte, and 41-to-doughnut, I think that's the worst defeat I've ever been in my life," Moss said.

Vikings coach Dennis Green, whose team lost in the championship game for the second time in three years, was stunned.

"I mean, there's just no way you think you're going to go out and not score any points," he said. "There's no way you think you're going to go out and give up 400 yards or so passing the football. There's just no way you think you're going to go out and not be able to protect your quarterback or not be able to run the ball. So there's really nothing that took place today that we were prepared for."

Perhaps the only ones not surprised by the completeness of Sunday's victory were the Giants.

Coach Jim Fassel inspired a seven-game winning streak when he boldly predicted the Giants would make the playoffs after consecutive defeats left them 7-4.

On Sunday, linebacker Jessie Armstead interrupted Fassel's post-game news conference, lifted the podium and pulled out a piece of paper he had placed there before the game.

"I got a thing for y'all," Armstead said. "I put it there before the game started and I'm going to pull it out. It didn't turn out the way I wanted, it turned out even better. Giants 31, Minnesota 17. But there was a zero on the other side and more points on (our) side."

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