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Giants back up coach's talk

Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2002

Unlike other coaches' slogans, Jim Fassel's seem to work.

At least they get his New York Giants where they want to go.

This year's version was, ''It's not over until WE say it's over,'' uttered four weeks ago when his job seemed in jeopardy.

At the time, the Giants were part of several playoff clinching scenarios -- for other teams, that is, all ending with ''and if the Giants lose.''

The Giants didn't lose.

Their fourth straight victory, 10-7 in overtime over Philadelphia on Saturday, got them into the playoffs as a wild card at 10-6. That was almost as improbable as their trip to the Super Bowl two seasons ago when Fassel uttered after a horrible loss to Detroit:

''I'm pushing my chips to the middle of the table. I'm raising the ante. This team is going to the playoffs.''

Most players and many fans brush off stuff like that as coachspeak.

But who can argue with Fassel's record in his six seasons as the Giants' coach? He's 19-5 in December, when other teams that start slowly often quit.

''I don't know what he has but if I knew, I'd bottle it,'' said Wellington Mara, the Giants' 86-year-old owner, who has had in his employ over the years the likes of Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Belichick, Dan Reeves and Bill Parcells.

Flash back four weeks.

The Giants had lost two straight, the first to expansion Houston, the second to Tennessee in overtime. In that game, the Giants blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead and probably would have won had Fassel not tried and failed at a two-point conversion.

At that point, it was fashionable in tabloid newspaper and on talk radio to suggest that Fassel was on his way out.

It was never going to happen. ''No one who counted was saying that,'' Mara said.

And then came another one of those Fassel finishes in a game in which the Giants' resilience was never more evident.

They fell behind 7-0 on Philadelphia's first drive, which took four plays and all of 2 minutes and 24 seconds. So the defense just buckled down and allowed the Eagles a grand total of 142 yards in the rest of regulation and overtime.

The offense, meanwhile, rolled up 461 yards.

But Kerry Collins threw an interception from the Eagles' 6, Tiki Barber fumbled at the Philadelphia 4 and twice more in the kind of a game that has to be a first -- Barber ran for 203 yards and lost three fumbles. And the Giants had two touchdowns called back by holding penalties.

Fassel?

He kept rallying his team.

''I was never going to take out Tiki,'' he said, acknowledging that some of his assistants were suggesting he pull Barber for Ron Dayne. ''He's our guy. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him.''

He also kept encouraging kicker Matt Bryant, who missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt and later bounced his extra point off the right upright and through after the Giants finally scored midway through the fourth quarter. Bryant vindicated him with a 39-yard field goal that won the game in overtime.

''This is one of the toughest coaching jobs I've ever had to do,'' Fassel said of Saturday's game. ''We're playing a team that most people think is the best in the league and everything's going wrong for us. And every time we did something, we got knocked in the face.''

Finally they didn't.

Philadelphia's David Akers, arguably the NFL's best kicker, missed a 35-yard field-goal attempt with just over a minute left in regulation. That came after Barber's third fumble.

Finally, in OT, the Giants got their break -- a tipped pass that Shaun Williams intercepted. Bryant made the kick and New York, improbably, was in the playoffs.

Credit Barber and Bryant for resilience. Credit Collins and tight end Jeremy Shockey, the rookie man-child, who outjumped Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins for the tying TD.

But most of all, credit Fassel for his resilience.

And, perhaps, for his slogans.

Dave Goldberg covers the NFL for The Associated Press.



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