- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. "Big Blue" is back. Disproving they're phony favorites created by a soft schedule, the New York Giants resurrected the smothering defense that made their past championship teams so overwhelming.

The Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-10 in an NFC divisional playoff game last night before a record 78,765 at Giants Stadium with touchdowns on the opening kickoff return and a 32-yard interception. That turned the expected physical bout into an early knockout as the Giants contained Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and allowed only meaningless scores at the end of each half, when they were trading turf for time.

The Giants (13-4) host the Minnesota Vikings (12-5) on Sunday in the NFC Championship game. New York hasn't reached the conference final since 1990, but the six straight victories following coach Jim Fassel's guarantee of a playoff berth have left the Giants one game away from Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla. Coincidentally, New York's last title came in Super Bowl XXV, also was in Tampa.

"Do we have to worry about the Vikings already?" Fassel said as a joke, still dripping from a sideline Gatorade bath. "I'm not even dry from this game yet."

Even though the Giants didn't score an offensive touchdown, they became the 15th team to beat an opponent three times in one season. Like the earlier 33-18 and 24-7 victories, New York simply manhandled Philadelphia (12-6), which didn't even gain a first down until 2:02 remained in the first half. The grudge match between division rivals saw New York fans pelting a caravan of Philadelphia backers in the parking lot with snow balls, and the Eagles fared no better in losing their ninth straight to the Giants.

"I'm not big on 'Does this team have our number now that they beat us?' " Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They have, but I continue to believe each game has its own storyline. They dominated us. We obviously made too many mistakes."

Philadelphia managed just 11 first downs and 186 yards. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who accounted for 74.6 percent of Philadelphia's offense this season, gained just 17 yards on five carries and completed 21 of 40 passes for 181 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble.

"I've seen our defense play well at times, but I've never seen them play like that," Fassel said. "We kept Donovan McNabb where we needed to keep him. You don't have to kill the guy. You just have to capture him."

Said Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead: "We just confused him out there. He couldn't do it by himself. That's a young guy that makes a lot of plays out there, but we caused a lot of problems out there today."

The Giants needed only 17 seconds to silence the Eagles, who talked all week about redemption. New York returner Ron Dixon took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a 7-0 lead. It was the first opening kickoff returned for a touchdown in a playoff game in 26 years.

"I told them, 'Don't try to make a kill shot; just make a screen and get out of the way,' " Dixon said. "Once I broke the hole, I wasn't letting anyone catch me."

New York scored its next 10 points off turnovers. A recovered fumble led to a 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 14:55 remaining in the first half. Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn returned an interception 32 yards for a 17-0 advantage with 1:40 remaining in the first half. Sehorn said he instinctively batted the ball and was lucky even to catch it.

"I've never seen an interception as [good] as Sehorn's," Fassel said. "That was tremendous athleticism. He batted it up, got up and ran it back for a touchdown. It shows how hungry a player he is."

The Giants will have to bolster their offense if they want to match the high-powered Vikings, though. New York managed only 237 yards. Quarterback Kerry Collins was 12-for-19 for 125 yards. The Giants averaged 2.7 yards on 43 carries, with Ron Dayne gaining 53 yards and Tiki Barber 35 yards. Barber also fumbled once but said his fractured left forearm, which was protected by a cast, wasn't the cause.

"We might not have scored a lot of points offensively, but we did give the defense some rest with long drives," guard Ron Stone said.

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