If grading the Giants offense for the first seven games – when Sean Payton’s play-calling garnered only seven offensive TDs – you’d be hard-pressed to award the Giants ‘O’ much more than a D. However, after averaging only 12.7 points per game in the first seven, the Jim Fassel-led offense averaged 25.7 points per game (compared to the NFL season average of 21.6) down the stretch, as New York’s offense led the club to the playoffs.
New York’s finish of sixth overall in total offense was its highest ranking since the 1985 season, when Big Blue finished fifth. New York averaged 364.1 yards per game, up from last year’s average of 333.4 yards per game, which placed them ninth last season.
The Kerry Collins-led aerial attack also jumped from a tie for eighth last season to a sixth-place finish in 2002, averaging 246.9 yards a game.
All this was accomplished behind an inexperienced offensive line and a depleted wide receiver corps, which was missing Ike Hilliard for nine games.
On the ground, Tiki Barber rumbled to a career year behind that same green OL. However, New York only finished in the middle of pack (14th) in the league, averaging 117.2 yards per contest. That’s actually up one notch from last season’s No. 15 ranking.
New York is pretty set offensively going forward – as Collins, Barber, Toomer and Jeremy Shockey are all signed and secure – but three-fifths of that impressive OL will be unrestricted free agents. The Giants hope to retain all three – LT Luke Petitgout, RG Jason Whittle and RT Mike Rosenthal, not to mention invaluable TE Dan Campbell, also free at the end of the season.
Record-breaking Collins cements QB spot
Kerry Collins – Collins was as good as ever, especially down the stretch, breaking Giants marks for completions (335) and yards (4,073), also career highs. He also posted his most accurate season, completing 61.5 percent of his tosses. His 19/14 TD/INT ratio was slightly better than last year’s 19/16 figure, while his QB rating was also better than last season (85.4-77.1). Collins also emerged as more of an offensive leader, something the Giants have certainly been looking for. Grade: B+
Jesse Palmer – Backing up Collins is a thankless task, as this was the first season in the last three that Collins didn’t throw every single one of New York’s passes. Palmer relieved Collins in a late-season rout of Dallas, completing three-of-four passes for 30 yards. That was it. Grade: Inc.
Jason Garrett – Third-string all season. Grade: Inc.
Barber gains, nothing for Dayne
Tiki Barber – What more did this guy have to do to make the Pro Bowl? He led the entire NFC in yards from scrimmage with 1,984. He also finished with the second-highest total rushing yards (1,387) and second-best single-season output (203 against Philadelphia) in Giants history. Exhibiting his versatility, Barber became only the second Giant ever (Frank Gifford) to top 9,000 total yards. And for a supposedly brittle back, Barber played in all 16 games. Grade: A-
Ron Dayne – He needs a change of scenery, and the Giants would be wise to look into it this off-season. TGI defended Dayne since the get-go, but how can you defend the countless times Dayne has needed so little yet gotten even less? His final numbers weren’t terrible (428 rushing yards, 3.4 avg.), but how do explain his playoff line – three carries, four yards and a dropped pass that set up San Fran’s first points? Grade: C-
Charles Stackhouse – Not always fully prepared mentally, the rookie Stackhouse had more than one teammate wondering about his commitment level. He didn’t get a rush this season, but showed to be a decent blocker and a fine receiver, grabbing 13 passes for 88 yards and three TDs. Grade: B-
Delvin Joyce – He earned his paycheck on special teams. Grade: Inc.
Damon Washington – He won’t be back. Grade: Inc.
Toomer’s one-man show
Amani Toomer – While not as strong a résumé as Barber, Toomer also should have been given serious Pro Bowl consideration. He broke Giants team marks with 82 catches for 1,342 yards this year, all without another threat at receiver for more than half the season. And Toomer came up huge in key spots, posting 10 catches, 204 yards and three TDs during a must-win game in Indianapolis and grabbing three TDs in the crushing playoff loss. Boy, are the Giants lucky that they were patient with Toomer. Grade: B+
Ike Hilliard – Hilliard’s contract season was cut short due to Brian Dawkins’ cheap shot in Philly. Hilliard was putting up his usual numbers (27, 386), but the Giants likely feel that they’ll be okay without him. Grade: Inc.
Ron Dixon – Dixon showed his usual flashes, including posting his first career 100-yard game at Minnesota and grabbing two key passes late in the playoff game. But he also showed his immaturity once again; being suspended for one week for missing team meetings and doctors’ appointments while out with his injured knee. Whether the Giants decide he’s starting-worthy or not, it’ll still be a gamble. Grade: C
Daryl Jones – Jones was thrust into the starting lineup for six games due to the various injuries, and the Miami rookie showed that he’s not quite ready for prime time. Jones was unable to consistently get open or catch the ball, posting only seven receptions. He also failed miserably on punt returns. Grade: C
Tim Carter – Multiple injuries limited him to only five games played, two receptions, three rushes and five kickoff returns. Grade: Inc.
Derek Dorris – Special teamer finished with no catches. Grade: Inc.
No Shock over TE’s success
Jeremy Shockey – Just imagine if he didn’t have the two toe injuries and the handful of dropped passes? He’s already proven that he might be the game’s best-receiving tight end, and his presence totally preoccupies opposing defenses. His 74 receptions were a Giants rookie and TE record; his 894 yards were second-best ever in Giants TE annals. Those numbers were second-best in the NFL ever for a rookie tight end. His presence and charisma: Priceless. His grade: A-
Dan Campbell – Statistics don’t measure the value of Campbell, who has become one of New York’s key locker room spokesmen and leaders. He’s a heck of a blocker from both the TE and fullback spot and will catch the ball when it’s thrown to him (22 catches, 175 yards). Grade: B
Marcellus Rivers – He posted the game-winning grab in Dallas and not much else. Primarily contributed on special teams. Grade: Inc.
Unproven OL proves itself
Luke Petitgout – Petitgout was only charged with surrendering two sacks all season, and truly established himself as one of the game’s better left tackles. He certainly displayed the toughness and the foot speed to play that all-important position. He’s a free agent after the season, and should be New York’s top off-season priority. Grade: B
Rich Seubert – Critics wondered whether Seubert would be able to hold up all season. He answered those questions with flying colors. He was Big Blue’s best run blocker and also its best downfield blocker. Many a Tiki Barber run went for extended yardage due to Seubert’s speed and hustle. Grade: B+
Chris Bober – He was a question mark at right tackle before the season. No one ever figured he’d play center let alone play it well. Bober is the OL poster child for why the Giants should be laughing at all the media and fans and saying ‘we told you so.’ He’s been as good as they could have hoped, and also handled the snapping when need be. Sure wish Bober snapped for that game-winner in Frisco, no? Grade: B
Jason Whittle – His grade is affected by the fact that he played through several injuries all season. Whittle moves well and can pull with the best of them, a stark contrast from the man he replaced – Ron Stone. He was clearly not at the top of his game due to multiple ailments, but he played on and he played hard. Grade: B
Mike Rosenthal – Lucky to still be on the roster, Rosey stepped up and came though in a big way this season. His size and strength made it real tough on opposing left ends, as did his tireless effort and toughness. He had a couple forgettable games, but New York would be wise to retain Rosey, if at all possible. Grade: B-
Dusty Zeigler – A bum knee kept New York’s starting center out of action for all but two games, which he played at guard. Zeigler may not even want to return to football. He might not have a choice in New York, where he’s expected to be released. Grade: Inc.
Tam Hopkins – Was terrible in his one start in Houston. Grade: Inc.
Omar Smith – Played only on specials and as an extra lineman. Grade: Inc.
Ian Allen – Only active in three games with no starts. Grade: Inc.
Barrett Brooks – Late-season pickup could provide depth next year. Grade: Inc.
Jeff Hatch – Spent all season on Injured Reserve. New York’s not expecting much from him next year either. Grade: Inc.