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Special effort

A bit of the unusual gives Giants win in Divisional playoff

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Posted: Sunday January 07, 2001 7:51 PM

  Jim Fassel Giants head coach Jim Fassel has had plenty to cheer about in the last six games. AP

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The way their defense was playing, the New York Giants needed only two plays against the Philadelphia Eagles to get to the NFC title game.

Ron Dixon made the first on the opening kickoff and Jason Sehorn provided the other with one of the most memorable interceptions in playoff history.

Dixon raced almost untouched for 97 yards and Sehorn tipped a ball to himself and scored on a spectacular 32-yard interception return as the Giants defeated the Eagles 20-10 on Sunday to advance to their first title game since 1990.

"We've got two more games," veteran offensive tackle Lomas Brown said. "One more to get there and one more to take it home. When you get this close, you shouldn't let anything stop you."

The Giants (13-4) will face Minnesota (12-5) here next week for the right to go to Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 28 for the Super Bowl. The Vikings beat New Orleans 34-16 on Saturday.

Getting this close was something few could have predicted a little less than two months ago. The Giants were struggling after losses to St. Louis and Detroit, and the season seemed close to falling apart.

 
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    Then came the unexpected. Head coach Jim Fassel issued his playoff guarantee and the Giants have been unbeaten since, winning six consecutive.

    "It's fortunate that everybody plays badly when we play against them," Sehorn said sarcastically. "We're not a very good football team."

    The win was similar to the Giants' two other victories against Philadelphia this season. New York contained quarterback Donovan McNabb and came up with the big plays.

    This victory was by far the Giants' worst performance in the six-game winning streak. Luckily, it came against a team New York has dominated since Fassel took over four years ago. The Giants have beaten the Eagles nine consecutive times.

    "We put those other games behind," Eagles cornerback Al Harris said of their struggles against New York. "Those two big plays that they had were really the difference in the game."

    The Giants tried to be generous against the Eagles (12-6) this time, turning the ball over three times, but Sehorn, Michael Strahan (two sacks) and the rest of the defense again confounded McNabb. He rushed for only 17 yards on five carries and lost 41 yards because of the sacks as the Eagles were limited to 186 total yards.

    "We forced him to be a pocket passer," Sehorn said. "That's not their scheme. Their scheme is to move him around and do a lot of things with him. He is a gifted player. You want to put him in one and we made him stay in one place."

    McNabb, who was 20-for-41 for 181 yards and one interception, didn't get Philadelphia to the end zone until a blocked punt set up a 10-yard TD pass to Torrance Small. But the Giants recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock, even celebrating early by giving Fassel an icy shower on the sideline with 1:54 to go.

    The Giants, who were limited to 237 total yards, did not play the Vikings this season. But this will be a grudge match for New York, which was eliminated from the playoffs in 1997 by Minnesota after blowing a nine-point lead in the final 1:38 of a wild-card game.

    The Giants needed only 17 seconds to show the Eagles that things would be no different in this game, which was played on a rather pleasant day with temperatures in the upper 30s.

    Dixon, who was suspended for a game against the Steelers on Dec. 10 for oversleeping for a team meeting, had little trouble answering the bell for this one. He fielded David Akers' kick at the 3-yard line, went straight through a gaping hole in the middle and sprinted into the end zone after running around Akers at the Giants' 40-yard line.

    "This was a special game, and I just wanted to make a special play," Dixon said.

    The defense set up the next 10 points.

    Shaun Williams forced a fumble by Small late in the first quarter and Dave Thomas recovered at the Eagles' 34. Six plays later, Brad Daluiso kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead. He added a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter.

    Sehorn broke the Eagles' back with 1:40 left in the half with a highlight-film interception. He dived in front of Small on an out pattern, momentarily got his hands on the ball, then tipped it in the air and caught it. He quickly got up and ran for the touchdown, making one fake at the 20.

    "I have never seen an interception as good as that one," Fassel said. "That was tremendous athleticism in making the play, but our defense was strong. I have seen our defense play well at times, but I don't think I've seen our defense take over a game like that."

    The Eagles' best chance to get back into the game came in the third quarter when Amani Toomer, subbing on punt returns for Tiki Barber, fumbled and Mike Bartrum recovered at New York's 32.

    McNabb drove Philadelphia to the Giants' 13, but he didn't come close on a third-down pass, and Akers hooked a 31-yard field-goal attempt wide right.


     
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