Giants take NFC crown with route of Vikings
RECORD SETTING PERFORMANCE n New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins (5) looks for a receiver during the first quarter of the NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. Collins threw for 381 yards in the game and tied an NFC championship game record with five touchdowns passes as the Giants beat Minnesota 41-0. AP photo.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Ho-hum. Another NFC championship game at the Meadowlands, another shutout for the New York Giants.
Yet it wasn't the defense, which held high-powered Minnesota to 114 yards and had five takeaways, that drew the loudest praise in Sunday's 41-0 rout. The Giants are heading for their third Super Bowl because their offense was unstoppable and quarterback Kerry Collins was a record-setter.
Collins threw for five touchdowns and 381 yards in the Giants' most convincing win of a stunningly successful season.
No one has thrown for five TDs in an NFC playoff game since Sid Luckman of the Bears did it in 1943.
The Giants will play AFC champion Baltimore, which won at Oakland 16-3.
Few men have made guarantees the way coach Jim Fassel did, then seen that prediction blossom into something far more impressive. After the Giants, then 7-4, lost to Detroit, Fassel promised his team would make the playoffs. The Giants have won seven straight and are headed to Tampa, where 10 years ago they won their second Super Bowl crown.
It was the match, and the fire has been burning since then,'' Fassel said. I think we shocked a lot of people, but we didn't shock ourselves.''
They definitely shocked the Vikings (12-6) by taking a 14-0 lead before Minnesota's vaunted offense got onto the field. Collins found Ike Hilliard sprinting behind the depleted secondary for a 46-yard touchdown with just 1:57 gone.
The Vikings mishandled the ensuing kickoff and Lyle West recovered at the Minnesota 18. On the next play, Collins hit Greg Comella for the fullback's first career touchdown.
The rout was on.
We were going to throw it up and expose their defensive backs,'' said Amani Toomer, who had a 7-yard TD catch in the third quarter to end the scoring. They can't play with us.''
Particularly without regulars Orlando Thomas and Kenny Wright, which made New York's decision to throw and throw often an easy one.
We felt it became contagious,'' offensive coordinator Sean Payton said. We couldn't get the ball out there enough.''
The defense was grateful, and showed it by completely befuddling quarterback Daunte Culpepper, the first-year starter who looked it. The Giants also made star receivers Randy Moss (two catches, 18 yards) and Cris Carter (three for 24) virtually invisible.
We've been very fortunate these two playoff games where the pressure is off us,'' said defensive end Michael Strahan.
The touchdown receptions kept coming: Joe Jurevicius had an 8-yarder and Hilliard had a 7-yarder. Brad Daluiso added field goals of 21 and 22 yards.
Hilliard made 10 catches for 155 yards and Toomer six for 81. New York gained 380 yards in the air and 518 overall against the Vikings despite being underdogs. Minnesota, which rarely plays well outdoors, was a 2-point favorite.
The Vikings became the first NFC championship shutout victim since the Giants beat Washington 17-0 en route to winning the Super Bowl following the 1986 season. It was their first shutout loss in 158 games since Dennis Green became coach in 1992.
I thought we'd come out with a lot of fire,'' said Robert Smith, who led the NFC with 1,521 yards rushing, but managed only 44 Sunday. The guys, to me, seemed as ready as any time this year.''
But even before the second half began, the Vikings knew they had no answers. By then, it was 34-0, the largest such margin in NFC championship game history.
How impressed were the oddsmakers?
Baltimore was established as an early favorite for the Super Bowl, even though it didn't win its division. But the wild-card Ravens were 12-4 and have won three times in the postseason behind a record-setting defense.