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Stunned with shutout? One coach expected it

Giants defensive coordinator John Fox told his troops that 0 points allowed was obtainable.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 15, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- John Fox called it ... on Wednesday.

In the Giants' first team meeting after their second-round playoff victory over Philadelphia, the first meeting to prepare for the NFC Championship Game, their defensive coordinator saw this coming.

"When we got together with him," linebacker Jessie Armstead said, "he told us, 'We can shut ... these ... boys ... out.' And you're thinking to yourself, 'Shut 'em out? You're out of your mind.' I mean, you've got to respect the things that can happen out there.' "

What happened out there Sunday was what Fox predicted, a 41-0 shutout of the Vikings and a trip to Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV. "Our goal was to hold them to 17 points or less. But when that second quarter was over and there was a zero on that board, we said, 'Hey, let's hold them to that zero.' "Hey, we shut down probably the best offense in the league. Any team that's got a Randy Moss, a Cris Carter, a (Daunte) Culpepper, so many weapons ... " Armstead let the names sink in. "The way Coach Fox had it, they couldn't tell which way we were hitting them. Coach, he's a mastermind. He doesn't get the credit he deserves -- and I tell you what, don't give him credit. Let him keep coaching here; I don't want anybody taking him away from us."

Fox, with an almost embarrassed smile, stood in another corner of the Giants' tumultuous locker room and fessed up.

"No, you never really think shutout," he said. "You look at the matchups and talk to your players about what is going to be important in winning -- but you never really talk shutout publicly. I have to admit that it was a surprise."

The key to the defense -- well, one key -- was forcing the Vikings out of their deep passing game, the kind that got them here, like the 53- and 68-yard touchdown passes Moss caught a week ago against New Orleans.

"We played deep the entire game, knowing that team doesn't like to throw short passes," said Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn, whose anticipated matchup with Moss never materialized.

"If a team doesn't like to play 5 yards out and 10 yards out (short passing routes to the sidelines), you play a little bit deeper and force them to do what they don't want to do. That's not their game plan. Their plan is to throw deep and get you stretched out."

Then there was the matter of the blitzing. The Giants did plenty of it, adding to pressure applied to Culpepper by a defensive front four that swamped the Vikings offensive line and sacked him four times.

"When an offense comes up with a game plan, they draw it up for the quarterback to take a three-, five-, or seven-step drop," Sehorn said. "They don't draw it up for him to stop, turn, run and look downfield and try to find somebody while the defense is breathing down your neck. That makes it a lot more difficult."

So does falling behind by two touchdowns before the offense gets its hands on the ball.

"When you're down 14-0, the running game is kind of obsolete," Sehorn said. "Running the ball is going to take up time. You have to throw."

That pretty much took Robert Smith out of the Minnesota offense, even as a short receiver. He ran seven times for 4 yards and lost 2 yards on two receptions.

Being down 14-0 "doesn't feel good, obviously," Smith said, "but we've been in situations like that on the road this year. So it wasn't the first time for us. I don't think anyone was panicking. You go down and score a touchdown right away, that's 14-7."

Instead, Culpepper's pass from the Giants 22 -- the Vikings' deepest penetration -- was intercepted at the goal line by cornerback Emmanuel McDaniel. "We turned the ball over there early," Smith said. "That hurt us. But I think we were still in the game."

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