Gotham's go-to guys
After perfect game plan, Giants' coordinators look ahead
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Ticker) -- Marvin Lewis will be the hot coordinator in Super Bowl XXXV. But John Fox and Sean Payton are not too shabby. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings.
If ever a team could pitch a perfect game while playing for a conference championship, this was it. The New York Giants, relegated to the rare status of slight underdog as the top seed in the NFC, hit the high-powered Vikings like a locomotive Sunday, steamrolling to a 41-0 victory.
The annihilation evoked memories of a 49-3 rout of Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in a 1986 Divisional playoff game. But this Giants' team wasn't supposed to be capable of that against the high-powered Vikings.
"Our coordinators, John Fox and Sean Payton, had great game plans and our players executed it," Giants head coach Jim Fassel said. "We wanted to be aggressive right out of the chute. We came out throwing on offense and our defense mixed things up and made it tough on them." By halftime, the Giants had a 34-0 lead and started booking their reservations to Tampa. Assessing the damage, the Giants had 386 total yards, 338 in the air, and 20 first downs to 45 yards and three first downs for the Vikings.
In the second half, New York showed mercy but completed the shutout, the first in an NFC Championship Game since the 1986 Giants blanked Washington 17-0.
But those were the Giants of Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson and Phil Simms. The Giants of Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, and Kerry Collins were not supposed to be capable of a carnage like this. Even Strahan and Armstead were a bit overwhelmed afterwards.
"If you told me we would have won by 41 points, I probably would have said, 'no, no way,'" Strahan said.
"Our goal was 17 points. I mean that's a great offense," Armstead added. "But when we got into the second or third quarter with the big lead, everybody said let's keep the goose egg, and we hung on to it."
But members of the offense were not surprised with the aerial assault against a secondary that ranked 28th and yielded the most completions in the NFL.
"Payton faxed us the game plan on Tuesday night and put a little note on it that said, 'John Cougar Mellencamp, the best stuff we do,'" Collins said. "We felt like the matchup against their secondary was a good one and that we would be successful."
Collins set post-merger NFC Championship Game records with 381 passing yards and five touchdowns. He was 23-of-34 for 338 yards and four touchdowns in the first half.
"I am not shocked," Hilliard said. "We knew we would be successful throwing the ball. We knew their secondary was weak."
Payton's game plan was simple -- throw early and often against cornerbacks Robert Tate and Wasswa Serwanga, who moved into a starting role late in the season. The Giants also exploited 5-foot-7 safety Tyrone Carter, who was filling in for the injured Orlando Thomas, and nickel back Keith Thibodeaux, who was toasted by Hilliard on a 46-yard touchdown 1:57 into the game.
"We felt confident in the matchups outside," Payton said. "We protected well and our receivers made the plays. Ten of our first 15 plays were passes with four shot plays [bombs]. I think it was important for our guys to know we were coming after this defense."
While Hilliard and Toomer danced through the Minnesota secondary, the Giants defense held Pro Bowl wide receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter to a combined five catches for 42 yards. Moss had two receptions for 18 yards and Carter did not make his first catch until the fourth quarter.
The Giants secondary -- cornerbacks Jason Sehorn and Dave Thomas and safeties Sam Garnes and Shaun Williams -- are big and physical and matched up favorably, although they were helped by a strong pass rush that produced four sacks.
"They have so much confidence in their receivers, they just throw it up because the DB is 5-8 and they have a Randy Moss who can run and jump," Thomas said. "That was a mistake because we have guys in our secondary that average 6-3."
Fox's defensive scheme confused second-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who threw for just 78 yards with four turnovers, including three interceptions.
"It just seemed like anything we tried to do ... they just suffocated us," Culpepper said.
"When you have two years' experience, it is not as good as having 11 years," Fox said. "You have some things you try to do to confuse the quarterback. People shift and move on offense to confuse the defense, and we try to do a little bit of that defensively."
And Culpepper could not use his escapability against the coverages, running for only 10 yards.
"We've got linebackers with a lot of speed here with [Mike] Barrow and myself, so we were ready for his scrambles," Armstead said.
Of course, falling behind by two touchdowns 2:13 into the contest forced the Vikings to abandon the running game, and NFC rushing champion Robert Smith had just six carries.
"That obviously helps when you have the early lead and they get off their running game," Fox said. "It enabled us to get a good consistent rush on a mobile quarterback."
The Giants allowed only 114 yards, tying for the third-lowest total yielded in a postseason game. They gave up only 60 passing yards to a team that averaged 243 through the air in its first 17 games.
That should be enough to make Fox a hot commodity during Super Bowl week. As for Payton, he grabbed some attention with these numbers -- 518 net yards, 31 first downs and a time of possession of 42:22, all club playoff records.
Lewis is the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, who set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season with 165. In three playoff wins en route to the Super Bowl, they yielded just one touchdown and a total of 16 points.
Payton will have to answer that challenge Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla.
© 2003 SportsTicker Enterprises, LP