However, what the Giants did to Jacksonville Sunday night was no joke. Big Blue was as crisp and efficient offensively as they’ve been all season as Big Blue evened its record at 4-4 via a 24-17 win over the Jaguars.
The Giants, being the Giants, allowed the Jags to make things interesting late, but when Dan Campbell recovered Jacksonville’s onsides kick with 1:44 to play, the victory was in the bag.
“I thought we did a lot of good things out there tonight,” Fassel said. “I liked the tempo. Our offense executed very well.”
Big Blue rolled up 394 total yards, which tied a season high, 26 first downs and controlled the ball for 33:04. Most parties involved were giving Fassel quite a bit of the credit.
“He’s an offensive genius; he called a great game,” TE Jeremy Shockey said. “I know he called a good game. We all believed in him.”
“We made it easy for Coach Fassel,” RB Tiki Barber said. “We didn’t make any mistakes.”
Barber topped the century mark for the first time in 2002. “It was good to get [100 yards],” Barber said. “It typified the way we played today. We were hungry and we played fast.”
QB Kerry Collins was coolly efficient; completing 20-of-28 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown.
“Kerry was on target and sharp,” Fassel said.
But the Giants appeared to all be on target due to Fassel’s simplified gameplan, which included going to his key players early and often. From the first play of the game – a pass to Amani Toomer – the Giants were clicking.
“We had much better tempo than I thought,” Collins said. “We tried to establish a rhythm from the get-go.”
“I wanted to play quick, make the players be more decisive,” Fassel said. “I’ll go to the money guys; let the money guys make the plays.”
Fassel mentioned that there was a lot less motion in the Giants offense, which likely cut down on a lot of the confusion. “I just liked our approach,” Fassel said. “We didn’t make it complicated. Just go out and play.”
Barber mentioned that he didn’t think the Giants did any shifting at all.
What resulted was a simplified gameplan that had New York looking more like the juggernaut that was expected and less like the club that managed to score only seven touchdowns in its first seven contests.
Fassel scripted the first 12 plays of the game, and said that he stuck to it exactly. He added that Ron Dixon, Tim Carter and Ron Dayne stepping up and delivering when needed buoyed the offense. Fassel even credited new punter Tom Rouen for getting the team out of trouble on the game’s final play.
“We came out with a desire to win today and played tough,” Toomer said. “We had our backs up against a wall all year, but the difference tonight was that we really executed and made big plays when we needed to. We went out there and picked up the pace on offense, which is what Coach Fassel wanted us to do. It really helped us move the ball.”
To Fassel, the decision to take over the play-calling was the easiest call of all. “When things aren’t going well, I’ll put the pressure on myself,” Fassel said before adding that throughout his Giants’ career he has “made a lot more good decisions than bad ones.”
By playing smart, disciplined football, the Giants took the pressure off Fassel and placed it squarely on the Jaguars. New York’s defense kept the Jags in check for the first two-and-a-half quarters, during which time Big Blue jumped out to a 24-0 lead.
“I thought our defense played outstanding,” Fassel said. “They had only 17 plays in the first half, you can’t do a lot with 17 plays but we were in good shape to keep those guys to three points. I think our defense played outstanding.”
The Giants broke two long droughts in jumping to a 7-0 lead. First, New York forced its first turnover in four games, when RDE Kenny Holmes pounced on an aborted snap by Jacksonville. That gave New York possession at its own 44-yard line. The Giants wasted no time, crisply moving 56 yards in seven plays, with Barber walking in from the two for the game’s first points.
It was only the second time this season – and the first time in four games – that the Giants have scored a TD on their initial possession of the game.
Collins hooked up with Toomer (11 yards) and Dixon (14) to start the drive, and Barber finished it by gaining the final 17 yards on a catch and three runs.
The Giants continued to move the ball but twice came up short when Matt Bryant missed his first two field goals on the season, from 41 and 37 yards out.
“I was disappointed we didn’t take those two drives in for touchdowns and then we missed the field goals, so I was doubly disappointed,” Fassel said.
Both of Bryant’s kicks were wide right, quite possibly the result of working with a new holder. All season, as Bryant nailed his first 11 kicks, he worked with Matt Allen. With Rouen now on board to punt, Bryant had only two days of practice to get acclimated to his new holder, and it apparently showed.
However, Fassel didn’t think Rouen’s holding ability had anything to do with Bryant’s misses.
“When Matt was warming up, he was missing to the right and the two he missed were off to the right,” Fassel said. “He just needed to make the adjustment.”
Despite the missed opportunities, the Giants would get themselves right back into scoring position and double their lead. Carter kick-started New York’s 11-play, 68-yard drive with a 13-yard gain on an end-around. After Collins hit Shockey for an 11-yard gain, Carter turned in the biggest play of the game, grabbing a 27-yard pass to convert a fourth-and-17 late in the first half.
“Tim got in there and ran a good route and was able to get into that hole [in the defense] and I was able to get the ball off to him,” Collins said.
On the next play, Collins hooked up with Dixon in the right side of the end zone. The original ruling was that the pass was incomplete with Jags CB Fernando Bryant providing the coverage. However, replays showed that Dixon got his feet down in bounds and the play was reversed, giving Dixon an eight-yard touchdown. Dixon, who a week earlier had a key catch reversed in Philly, celebrated his first TD of the season.
“It wasn’t a perfect route, but Kerry put it in a perfect spot and I just went up and tried to concentrate and keep my feet in bounds,” Dixon said. “I’m glad that replay is in the house.”
“I thought Ron stepped up and played well,” Fassel said. “That TD wasn’t even in the gameplan.”
The Giants came out firing again to start the second half, marching 58 yards in eight plays to a 27-yard Bryant field goal and a 17-0 lead. The key play of the drive was Barber’s 36-yard catch-and-run.
The Giants defense continued to suffocate Jacksonville. The Jaguars went for it on fourth-and-four from the Giants 33-yard line. With Omar Stoutmire coming hard on a blitz, LDE Michael Strahan was able to trip up Brunell for a 14-yard sack.
The Giants practically put the Jags away two plays later. Barber took the handoff, broke a couple tackles, used a great downfield block by LG Rich Seubert and raced in for a 44-yard touchdown. The gallop extended New York’s lead to 24-0 with 7:18 to play in the third period.
“Tiki had a great game,” Strahan said. “He put some points on the board for us.”
Jacksonville finally got on the board, via a 24-yard Tim Seder field goal that capped a 61-yard drive. They tacked on two late TDs (14-yard catch by Bobby Shaw, nine-yard grab by Jimmy Smith), but it was too little, too late.
“Certainly we’d like to go out on a better note,” LT Luke Petitgout said. “We didn’t want to make it that interesting at the end; we missed a couple of field goals tonight, we had that fumble (Ron Dayne) at the end, but we pretty much dominated the whole game. No one’s ever satisfied with a win like this.”
But after losing two straight, they’ll certainly take it.