- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The New York Giants expected a smackdown defensive effort. Instead, the offense delivered the early knockout.
New York won the NFC Championship 41-0 yesterday before a record crowd of 79,310 at Giants Stadium. Minnesota never gained any momentum after trailing 34-0 at halftime and committing five turnovers. It should have been the Vikings instead of Giants fans waving the white towels. Fans sang goodbye to the Vikings with three minutes left in the third quarter. After all, the game was over long before halftime.
The Giants (14-4) advance to Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla., where they face the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens, who beat the Oakland Raiders 16-3. Coincidentally, New York won its last title in Tampa, taking Super Bowl XXV.
"People have underestimated us all season," coach Jim Fassel said. "People thought this game would be too big for us, but it wasn't. There's only one team in the league that calls itself 'America's Team,' but we're living America's dream."
New York continues its implausible season after a pair of convincing playoff victories silenced critics who said the Giants simply are a creation of a soft schedule.
Aside from beating wild-card Philadelphia three times this season, New York was overmatched by several playoff contenders. However, New York beat Philadelphia 20-10 in the NFC semifinal on Jan. 7 before it blanked Minnesota yesterday.
Fassel guaranteed the Giants would make the playoffs after a 7-4 start. He knew a team that bonded during the offseason through golf tournaments, dinner cruises and movies wouldn't falter in the final weeks as it did in 1999, when it lost its final three games to finish 7-9. Fassel's prediction could have cost him his job, but instead it's credited with the strong finish.
"It lit a match and that fire has been burning ever since," Fassel said.
Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and seven teammates from past Giants Super Bowl championships delivered locker room speeches in the days leading up to the NFC title game and that left New York feverish to reach Tampa.
"When you have the greatest players ever from this stadium talking to you on the sidelines," defensive end Michael Strahan said, "you're coming out and playing for them."
The Giants responded by scoring on their opening drive. Then New York recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and scored another quick touchdown for a 14-0 lead just 2:13 into the game. Given that New York was 11-0 this season when scoring first, the Giants looked to be Super Bowl-bound before the Vikings took their first offensive snap.
Giants quarterback Kerry Collins shredded the Vikings safeties as he threw three touchdowns on the same corner end zone route. Collins completed 28 of 39 for 381 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in just three quarters before the Giants mercifully pulled many starters.
"Everybody was talking about the matchup of our defense versus their offense," Collins said, "but we knew we could throw the ball versus their secondary."
New York scored on six of eight first-half drives with two others ending on interceptions one that deflected off the facemask of rookie running back Ron Dane. The Giants finished with a season-high 518 yards and held the ball the final 12:53.
"I've never seen our offense like that," linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "It looked like they could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted."
Defensively, the Giants benefited from the early lead, which made the Vikings one-dimensional. Robert Smith, the NFL's leading rusher, gained just 44 yards on seven carries and ran only twice after halftime.
Instead, New York managed to jam Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper into the pocket that prevented him from regularly scrambling. Culpepper ran only twice for 10 yards and was 13 of 28 for 78 yards passing with three interceptions. Vikings receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss combined for only five catches for 42 yards. As the Giants' lead grew, the Vikings offense which scored fewer than than 21 points only three times this season all but vanished.
"By the second quarter, we said 'Let's hold them to a goose egg,' " said Strahan, whose pregame goal was 17 points. "We realized a shutout was possible."
The Giants have won eight straight since Fassel's guarantee, but he was mum on a Super Bowl prediction.
"I don't need to make any more guarantees," Fassel said. "They're all out there on the field."

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