- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

The New York Giants are nine months removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but at the moment, they are playing nothing like it.
Yesterday's defeat, their third straight after starting the season 3-1, was filled with mental mistakes and technical errors that left coach Jim Fassel and his players convinced major changes are needed to bring the Giants back to the level they attained in winning the NFC championship last season.
"We can't play football the way were playing right now and expect to win," said Fassel, who thought yesterday's game was his team's worst of the year. You can't start the game with a fumble and put them on a short field, you can't get a special teams return for a touchdown, and you can't get beat deep on a blown coverage. That's 21 points."
Those types of mistakes are rare for a New York team that, in the past, has often been built on conservative offenses, stingy defenses, and low-scoring, turnover-free football. The Giants didn't show any of those traits yesterday.
Just two weeks ago, New York was being heralded as one of the NFC's top teams following a 15-14 loss at St. Louis. After two more losses though, including one to the previously woebegone Redskins, the Giants have serious questions about themselves.
"I hope this will be a wakeup call for us because if we think we're just going to step on the field and win games just because we were in the Super Bowl last year, games like this will happen all year long," said Kerry Collins, who didn't discount the possibility that his team took the Redskins lightly. "I think we're searching for an identity."
"This is a time that is testing our character," said Tiki Barber, who had 74 yards receiving. "We're not as good as last year. We would like to think we are, and we're not. Barber and Ron Dayne combined yesterday to produce just 33 yards on 15 carries.
Fassel and his players didn't point fingers at anyone in particular and said the problems were team-wide. But if yesterday's performance is any indication, it's clear that the Giants cannot always rely on their formerly formidable defense and ground game. Even their special teams, which surrendered Eric Metcalf's 89-yard punt return and had a kickoff go out of bounds, are unsound.
The Giants may have been able to overcome their mistakes yesterday if not for three game-changing trick plays. The previously struggling Redskins used a pass from wide receiver Kevin Lockett to Derrius Thompson to provide a big touchdown and a 10-point lead early in the second half. The Giants botched a reverse on the game's second play and muffed a flea flicker early in the second quarter, making for a 14-point swing from which they never recovered.
On their second play from scrimmage, the Giants tried to run an end-around to Amani Toomer, but Toomer didn't open his arms wide enough for Collins to hand him the ball and he fumbled it. Kenard Lang recovered to set up the Redskins' first touchdown.
"We shortened the field, gave them all the momentum. You can't do that to a home team. When you're on the road, you can't do that," Fassel said.
Later, offensive coordinator Sean Payton called a flea flicker that had the Washington defense fooled, as Ike Hillard and Toomer were wide-open down field. However, Dayne made a bad pitch back to Collins and Bruce Smith was credited with a 17-yard sack.
The Redskins, on the other hand, made sure they executed and well-timed their trick-play gamble. On the fourth play of the second half, Tony Banks tossed a lateral in the left flat to Lockett, who turned and hit Thompson in stride for a 31-yard touchdown connection and a 24-14 lead. The three plays, all of which went Washington's way, affected the game immeasurably.
"Those are demoralizers," Barber said.
Among the other demoralizing Giants mistakes: kicking the second half kickoff out of bounds and accumulating two other penalties on the play; linebacker Brandon Short's roughing the passer penalty that helped the Redskins score a third-quarter field goal; and a facemask penalty by Omar Stoutmire on a punt that pinned the Giants back on their 8-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
New York has gone from the NFC East's top team to a team struggling to find the same attitude that carried it to the division title and Super Bowl last season. No one is going to help the staggering Giants to their feet, and they realize it.
"Who has time to feel sorry for themselves? If you feel sorry for yourself, it will be four straight losses," Michael Strahan said. "This is a game where you have to have a very short memory, you don't feel sorry for yourself, you grab yourself, shake yourself off, and say, 'This time's going to be the one.'"


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