EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Kerry Collins launched an aerial assault that Randy Moss and Cris Carter could only watch in horror and the defense of the New York Giants made Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor proud.
Collins passed for 381 yards and five touchdowns with most of them coming in a 34-point first half as the Giants rolled to a 41-0 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings in the most lopsided NFC championship game ever.
On the 10-year anniversary of their Super Bowl victory in Tampa, the Giants are heading back to Florida's Gulf Coast to play the Baltimore Ravens (15-4) in Super Bowl XXXV on January 28.
Despite being the top seed in the NFC, the Giants (14-4) were billed as slight underdogs against the Vikings (12-6). But on Sunday, they dominated from start to finish, rolling up 518 total yards and 31 first downs to just 114 yards and nine first downs for the Vikings, who also committed five turnovers.
Afterwards, Giants owner Wellington Mara took particular delight in the triumph and took a shot at the critics.
"This Giants team was referred to as the worst team ever to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Today, we proved we're the worst team to win the NFC championship game," Mara said. "And I'm happy to say two weeks from now we hope to become the worst team to win the Super Bowl."
Dissecting a porous secondary which ranked 28th in the league, Collins completed 23-of-34 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone when the Giants opened a 34-0 lead and essentially buried the Vikings. He was 5-of-5 in the second half for 43 yards and another score before leaving early in the fourth quarter.
"There were a lot of questions as to whether Kerry can carry this team. He answered that bell today," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "Never been a doubt in my mind and he stepped up and did it today."
The 381 yards set an NFC championship game record, eclipsing Troy Aikman's total of 380 yards for the Dallas Cowboys in 1994 against San Francisco. The five touchdown passes matched an NFL championship game record, discounting Super Bowls, set by Sid Luckman in 1943.
"All week they were talking about their offense against our defense and we looked at each other and said what about our offense against their defense," Collins said. "We felt like our matchup against their secondary was a good one for us and the coaching staff gave us an aggressive game plan."
Collins hit Ike Hilliard with a 46-yard touchdown and connected with fullback Greg Comella on an 18-yard scoring play in the first 2:13 of the game. Joe Jurevicius caught an eight-yard TD in the second quarter and Hilliard closed the half with a seven-yard score. Amani Toomer had a seven-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to complete the rout.
While Vikings Pro Bowl receivers Moss and Carter grabbed the headlines this week, Giant receivers Hilliard and Toomer shined in the spotlight. Hilliard had 10 receptions for 155 yards and Toomer caught six passes for 88 yards and a score.
"I'm not shocked," said Hilliard, who had seven catches for 146 yards in the first half. "We knew we were going to do it. We knew their secondary was weak."
Was it ever. Viking cornerbacks Wasswa Serwanga and Robert Tate and safeties Tyrone Carter and Robert Griffith along with nickel back Keith Thibodeaux struggled mightily in Minnesota's season-ending three-game losing streak and had fits with Hilliard and Toomer on Sunday.
"We felt the best matchup for us was our receivers against their secondary and our approach was we were going to be aggressive from the start," Fassel said.
"Any time you have young corners, you knew they were going to come after us," said Tate, who had an interception. "They got on us real fast, something like 14-0, and they just kept playing strong. They came out and did their homework."
It was believed the Giants secondary would have problems with Moss and Carter. But with the help of a strong pass rush which produced four sacks, the Giants held the prolific tandem to a total of five catches for 42 yards.
Moss had just two catches for 18 yards and Carter did not make his first catch until the fourth quarter and finished with three receptions for 24 yards.
Second-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper completed 13-of-28 passes for 78 yards with three interceptions and a fumble.
"They executed their game plan well and we didn't," Culpepper said. "It seems like everything we tried to do....they just suffocated us."
After falling behind by two touchdowns before their offense even took the field, the Vikings virtually abandoned their running game, handing the ball off just seven times to NFC rushing champion Robert Smith. He had six carries for 19 yards before breaking off a 25-yard run in the second half.
"We didn't play near to our potential," Smith said. "What do you say after a game like that. Obviously, we did not do a lot of things right."
Minnesota was shut out for the first time in Dennis Green's nine years as coach.
"It was that kind of day for us. There's not much else to say," Green said. "When you're not productive at all, there's really no explanation, except to say they were much better. It was just not our day."
The margin of victory was the biggest in a conference championship since Buffalo beat Oakland, 51-3 in the AFC title game in January 1991.
Ironically, the Giants team led by Taylor was the last to record a shutout in a conference championship, a 17-0 victory over Washington in January 1987.
Before the game, Taylor, Harry Carson, George Martin, Phil McConkey and other former Giants from their last two Super Bowl teams raced through the runway before thundering applause from the record crowd of 79,310.
"It was great to see the past history of the Giants come here to help us," Strahan said. "If that don't motivate you, I don't know what will. Harry and LT (Taylor) came over and said we want you to pitch a shutout and we delivered."
"We had the 12th man today with LT and Harry Carson and the rest of them," Armstead said. "This team has a great tradition and we're happy to take it to another Super Bowl."
Minnesota came in with the quick-strike reputation, but it was the Giants who needed just four plays after the opening kickoff to take the lead. Collins hit Toomer, who was listed as questionable with a sprained left ankle, with two passes for 26 yards to the Minnesota 48. After a two-yard run by Tiki Barber, Collins lofted a 46-yard bomb down the right side to Hilliard, who lined up in the slot and raced past Thibodeaux.
"We were going to throw it early and often," Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton said. "We felt confident in the matchups outside and our guys responded well. We knew the first quarter would be an important time to flex our muscle."
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball bounced in front of returner Troy Walters at the Minnesota 19. Moe Williams attempted to retrieve the ball and fumbled as he bumped into Walters. Lyle West recovered for the Giants at the Minnesota 18.
On the next play, Collins hit Comella, who outran linebacker Dwayne Rudd to the right corner of the end zone to increase New York's lead to 14-0 just 2:13 into the game.
Culpepper hit Moss with a 13-yard pass on Minnesota's first play from scrimmage and Sehorn was penalized 10 yards for tripping, moving the Vikings to the New York 38. But Minnesota opted to punt on a 4th-and-9 play at the 37.
The Giants were backed up on their own 2 after a 35-yard punt by Mitch Berger was downed short of the goal line, but Collins came out firing again, hitting Toomer with a 24-yard pass. Four plays later, Collins fired a pass that was tipped by defensive tackle Chris Hovan, went off the helmet of rookie running back Ron Dayne and deflected to Tate, who returned it four yards to the New York 37.
But Minnesota failed to capitalize. On a 2nd-and-8 from the New York 22, Culpepper attempted to hit Carter over the middle, but McDaniel, the Giants leader in interceptions this season with six, cut in front of the receiver and picked off the pass.
The Giants remained aggressive on their next possession, but Collins' deep pass intended for rookie Ron Dixon was intercepted by safety Don Morgan at the Minnesota 11.
The Vikings went three-and-out and Berger shanked a 26-yard punt to the Minnesota 41. Collins hit Toomer with a 22-yard pass to the 11 and connected with Jurevicius on a seven-yard play to the Minnesota 2. But on a 3rd-and-1 play, Dayne was tackled for a two-yard loss and the Giants settled for a 21-yard field goal by Brad Daluiso four seconds into the second quarter.
After another three-and-out by Minnesota, the Giants again went on the attack as Collins completed 4-of-4 for 59 yards to highlight a 71-yard drive. The big play was a 43-yard pass to Dixon, who outleaped Carter for the ball at the Minnesota 13. Two plays later, Jurevicius caught an eight-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone, increasing New York's lead to 24-0 with 10:24 left in the second quarter.
Minnesota responded with its third straight three-and-out, and the Giants put together a 10-play, 62-yard drive which resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Daluiso with 5:22 remaining in the half.
The Vikings again failed to muster a first down on their next possession and the Giants completed the half with a 10-play, 77-yard drive in which Collins completed 6-of-8 for 66 yards. Hilliard caught passes of 11, 28 and 13 yards before capping the drive with a seven-yard TD.
The Giants had 20 first downs and 386 total yards at halftime compared to three first downs and 45 yards for Minnesota.
"The same things happened most of the time when we lose. I touch the ball at the start and then don't get it the rest of the game," Moss said. "A 41-0 doughnut. That's the worst defeat I"ve ever been in in my life. But I'm not making excuses. The New York Giants wanted it more than us."
Five plays later, Collins hit Toomer with a seven-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 41-0.
Garnes intercepted a long pass by Culpepper and returned it 13 yards to the New York 28 on the Vikings' next possession. Minnesota reached the Giants 32 later in the quarter, but Culpepper was sacked for an 11-yard loss by Armstead, forcing a punt.
Sehorn intercepted a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter with 12:53 left and the Giants held the ball the rest of the way with backup quarterback Jason Garrett directing the offense and Joe Montgomery running the ball 14 times for 42 yards.
The Giants are 3-0 in NFC championship games.
The Vikings lost their fourth straight conference title game and have not reached the Super Bowl since January 1977.