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Giants: Gibbs' magic touch has Redskins believing

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Star-Ledger Staff

ASHBURN, Va. -- On the eve of the season opener, Joe Gibbs delivered one of the most unconventional pep talks any of his players had ever heard.

He stood before his team and apologized.

He was sorry for stealing the spotlight, for becoming a singular story line as he returned to the Redskins sideline for the first time since 1992. He expressed hope that the attention soon would shift to the players, where he said it belongs.

His players saw the apology as unnecessary but not insignificant. In that moment, they gained further insight into the man who leads them, the man who built their franchise, who won the three Super Bowl trophies that adorn the lobby of their team facility.

"It was genuine and he's a humble guy," said offensive lineman Ray Brown, a 19-year veteran who played for Gibbs in his first stint as Redskins coach.

"He's done some great things, but you won't see him pumping his chest, 'Look at me.' (The apology) was an extension of who he is."

The Redskins went out and beat the Buccaneers, 16-10, last Sunday.

After his first victory in 12 years, Gibbs shook the hand of every player in the Redskins locker room. He gave out 53 game balls, one to every player on the roster and at least 46 more than he usually would.

Then he went to a quiet dinner with his wife, Pat, and some other family members and friends.

For Gibbs, 63, that victory -- his first since retiring in 1993 and being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 -- was as emotional as any he can remember. He figures those feelings will be churning again today, when the Redskins visit Giants Stadium and he is reminded of those games of years gone by, when he used to look across the field at Bill Parcells.

But so much has changed since then. The game is different, affected by the salary cap as much as anything. Players seem younger: Running back Clinton Portis was 12 when Gibbs first walked away.

And the glare of the spotlight is brighter, even for someone who generally shuns it.

Gibbs did not give a halftime interview to Fox-TV last week, choosing to jog to the locker room to begin making adjustments. He does not want to be merchandised, even though the demand for Gibbs-inspired T-shirts, hats and bobblehead dolls would be strong. He preferred not to be featured on the cover of the team's media guide.

And last week when his players ran through the tunnel during pregame introductions, Gibbs stood to the side and slipped onto the home field almost unnoticed.

"I was way on the sidelines where I couldn't get hurt," Gibbs said, laughing. "But even on the sidelines, you forget that your heart almost comes out of your chest."

In his first go-round, Gibbs went 124-60 in regular-season games and led the Redskins to the playoffs in eight of his 12 seasons. His postseason record is 16-5.

In the 11 seasons since he left, Washington won just 74 games and reached the postseason once. The Redskins went 12-20 under Steve Spurrier the past two seasons.

No wonder Gibbs' return has been greeted as revival. Inside and outside the organization.

"You respect coaches when they tell you something, then do whatever it takes to do it," guard Randy Thomas said. "That's the type of guy you love to play for and we have the opportunity to do it. I don't know one guy who doesn't like him. Sometimes you get guys talking (about a coach). We don't have that here this year."

The Redskins locker room is happy, harmonious and hopeful. Yet Gibbs deflects any credit.

"If you get the right players, that kind of solves your problem," he said. "That's what you're looking for: the right players. They'll kind of coach themselves."

Gibbs, of course, largely did not get to pick these players. He inherited most of them. And he has reversed the attitude of a team for which winning had been a thread of its past, not a part of its present.

When former Colts linebacker Marcus Washington entered free agency, the first team he heard from was the Redskins.

"It meant a lot to me," said Washington, the Redskins strongside linebacker. "To get a call from Coach Gibbs, I was almost in awe."

When former Giants defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin signed with the Redskins, he told Gibbs he did not wish to address the media. Gibbs told him he didn't have to, leading to one of the more unusual introductory press conferences in team history.

When quarterback Mark Brunell met Gibbs at the Jacksonville, Fla., airport for their first meeting, he saw immediately how Gibbs reacted under pressure. A diabetic, Gibbs had an insulin imbalance and needed to be taken to a hospital.

"I'm kind of concerned he was going to pass out or something," Brunell said, "but he was real laid-back, as if we were going for a Sunday drive or something."

And when second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey asked to be traded after Brunell's arrival, it was Gibbs who soothed the situation, saying Ramsey remains the Redskins' quarterback of the future.

"I obviously haven't known him long, but up to this point I haven't heard him say a thing he hasn't meant," Ramsey said. "He doesn't say things if he doesn't mean them."

As the season approached, the Redskins adjusted to the more stringent practice demands under Gibbs. He requires his players to be in pads every day, which wasn't -- and isn't -- universally popular. Gibbs responded by presenting his reasons on an overhead projector during a team meeting.

"It's because we need to outwork our opponent," Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "You can't be mad at it. What are you going to say? Your system doesn't work."

Said Washington: "Let me tell you, games are almost a vacation because we work so hard in practice."

Arrington says Gibbs has created a level of accountability where players are disgusted with themselves when they disappoint him.

"Even though you know when you play ball that the coach is a dictator of some sort, it still seems like a democracy," Arrington said. "You realize he's giving you the opportunity to have a say and have constructive input. Guys don't want to wear pads every day, but we wear pads every day. We know he's in charge."

Players say Gibbs conveys his message effectively with his self-deprecating humor, his penchant for illustrating points through storytelling, his devotion to preparation, his insistence on discipline, his interest in getting to know them as people, and his apparent inability to show anger or call out a player.

"He doesn't have to scream at guys," Arrington said. "He's doesn't have to use profanity. He doesn't have to belittle people and stuff like that."

To Brunell, all of this matters.

"I think you can demand discipline and not do it in a negative way," Brunell said. "He commands so much respect and it's not because he's won three Super Bowls and all that. He commands respect because of the person he is. He cares about his players, and you can tell."

Such an approach, Brunell believes, can go a long way. Especially on game day.

"He's a good guy and he's our coach," Brunell said. "And we're going to go fight for him."

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Giants: Week 2 not too early for a must-win game

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Star-Ledger Staff

For the Giants, today's game against the Washington Redskins is as close to a must-win as there can be in Week 2 of the NFL season.

Sure, teams that started 0-2 have turned their seasons around in recent years. Last year, for instance, the Philadelphia Eagles made the conference championship game after losing their first two games. And yes, the Giants won their opener last year before falling on their faces on the way to a 4-12 record.

Teams can recover from 0-2 starts. But it might be difficult for this team. For numerous reasons, the Giants consider this a "must- win."

"Every game should be a must-win game, but we need this one even more," wide receiver David Tyree said. "We need to get rid of the stigma of losing."

It was a beautiful 78-degree September afternoon when the Giants blitzed and bewildered the St. Louis Rams' offense and quarterback Kurt Warner. They won, 23-13, and appeared on their way to a successful season when they walked off the field at Giants Stadium.

That moment was 377 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes away from today's scheduled kickoff.

Since then, the Giants have taken their home field seven times in the regular season. They lost all seven. A Jesse Palmer-led comeback in the fourth quarter of the 2004 preseason opener was the only semblance of a home victory. Overall, the Giants have lost nine consecutive games going back to last season.

"We need a win to start protecting our home," wide receiver Ike Hilliard said. "And we need to give everyone a reason to come to the games every Sunday. And not just be there to tell us how bad we're doing."

Since going 6-2 at home in 1997, the Giants have been no better than 5-3 at Giants Stadium in a single season. Under Bill Parcells, they won five home games twice, six two other times, seven in back-to-back seasons and went 8-0 in 1986.

That's the kind of dominance and intimidation for which Tom Coughlin will be looking.

"One of the oldest axioms in football is, 'Win at home, win at home,'" Coughlin said. "You are at home. You are in front of your home fans. You want to utilize your fans -- the greatest fans in the world -- to the best of your ability. You want to get the fans in the game. You want it to be a very pro-Giant crowd that is loud and supportive of our football team. That's what it should be at home. That is what I am expecting it to be at home."

Much of the urgency is also a result of the opponent. Cornerback Will Peterson was one of several Giants who said earlier this week that defeating Washington is important to stay in contention in the NFC East. Winning the division is the surest way to make the playoffs, the cornerback noted.

Win, and the Giants pull even with the Redskins. Lose, and it is an early two-game hole.

Playing catchup is not the ideal way to win this division. And moral victories don't count in the race.

"It's critical to win," defensive end Michael Strahan said. "We're not going out there to play a lot better and hope to lose it and go, 'Well, we put in a valiant effort.' That's not good enough."

Maybe the most basic reason why the Giants must win is simple. Defeating Washington would give this team something it has been lacking since early last season. It is something that supersedes a formidable offensive line, a sound game plan and good tackling. It is actually the catalyst for most of those things.

It is confidence -- belief in themselves and Coughlin.

"We have to start stringing as many wins together as possible," said cornerback Terry Cousin, who went to the Super Bowl with Carolina last season. "The more you win, the more confidence you get. Nobody likes to lose. Losing (stinks). Everybody knows that."

Giants-Redskins matchups

Giants on offense

The running game is the key to the Giants' success on offense. In the first quarter last week against the Eagles, they ran for 54 yards and scored the game's first touchdown on a 3-yard run by RB Ron Dayne. After that, they started passing and could not finish their drives. RB Tiki Barber solved that problem with a 72-yard run that came far too late. The Redskins held Tampa Bay to 30 yards rushing in the opener, so it won't be easy for the Giants to move the ball on the ground. But if they want to set up the passing game and quarterback Kurt Warner, they'll need a good ground attack and plenty of protection from the offensive line.

Redskins on offense

Portis, Portis, Portis. That's what the Giants can expect. Redskins RB Clinton Portis is a dangerous runner capable of scoring from anywhere on any play. His first carry in Washington was a 64-yard touchdown run in which he bolted between two safeties who had no chance of catching him. He finished the day with 148 yards rushing. Portis is getting ready for a big day after seeing all the missed tackles by the Giants in Week One. QB Mark Brunell won't make many mistakes and can beat a defense with his arm and WRs Lavernues Coles and Rod Gardner.

Special Teams

Neither team can brag in this department. Giants K Steve Christie did nail a 53-yarder against the Eagles, though. P Jeff Feagles was happy simply to be able to stand after getting leveled by the Eagles' Jeremiah Trotter. KR Willie Ponder averaged 23.8 yards per return. The Giants allowed punt returns of 16 and 22 yards.

Redkins K John Hall was 3-for-4 last week. He missed a 50-yard attempt. The Redskins kick coverage allowed a 54-yard kickoff return to Tampa Bay's Frank Murphy.


LB Reggie Torbor, the Giants' fourth-round draft pick, could get his first NFL start if LB Carlos Emmons is unable to play. Torbor played a lot in the preseason while Emmons was rehabbing a broken leg and recorded a sack and two forced fumbles in the third game against the Jets. Torbor was drafted as a defensive end, but made the transition to outside LB and said he is excited about his first possible start.

Injury report

Giants: S Omar Stoutmire (knee), WR Jamaar Taylor (hamstring) and CB Frank Walker (foot) are out. LB Carlos Emmons and OL Wayne Lucier (back) are questionable. DE Michael Strahan (gluteal strain) is probable.

Redskins: LB Micheal Barrow (knee) and LaVar Arrington (knee) are questionable. K John Hall (hamstring) and HB Brian Kozlowski (calf) are probable).

Quick stat

A loss would seem to be disastrous for the Giants, but in the last three years, the result of their home opener has contrasted the rest of the season. After winning last year, they fell to 4-12. They also beat New Orleans in 2001 before going 7-9. But in 2002, they lost to San Francisco before ending the season 10-6.


Redskins 21, Giants 17

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Giants can't expect Tom Coughlin to rebuild team in his image until core from previous regime is gone, Jay Greenberg says.

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September 19, 2004 -- The new coach fines players for being late even when they arrive two minutes early. It delivers a message of misrepresentation, not punctuality, but ironically it all seems appropriate.

To effect a turnaround season, it already is later than the Giants think.

The team's defensive star and leader grieves a Tom Coughlin fine to the union, all the while insisting everything is fine between the two of them. One only wishes a team coming off 4-12 was as active on both sides of the ball as Michael Strahan is out of both sides of his mouth.

That said, if Giants keep getting fined, how are they supposed to have enough left to buy in? History tells us new programs need new people, regardless of how talented some of the old ones might be. You can argue the absurdity of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it's hard to get any work done through all that crying.

The Giants have greater needs than a new attitude, of course. The linebackers lack talent, the offensive line is a project, and the young secondary looks suspiciously overrated, hardly an argument that a heretofore-mismanaged team (by a coach who once got it to a Super Bowl) needs only to set clocks five minutes ahead to start winning again.

Notwithstanding the 1999 Rams and 2001 Patriots, clubs that won it all off 4-13 and 5-11, the salary-cap era hasn't turbo-powered team elevators. While waiting for Kurt Warner to get crunched again today (kickoff is at 1 p.m. but no one will be admitted after 12:55) we crunched numbers confirming that, yes, all things are possible, but not really very likely.

Since 1993, the first year of the salary cap, 44 teams have improved by four victories or more, amounting to 18 percent of 233 individual club seasons. Such are the chances of the 2004 Giants going 8-8. While you would take this in a Tom Coughlin second, truth is, most years even 9-7 doesn't make the playoffs.

For the Giants to qualify would likely take a jump of six wins, a number equaled or bettered 11 times (four percent of the seasons). Remember that the Panthers, the current worst-to-first poster boys, rose from 1-13 to 11-5 over two years, not one. And seven of those teams to make six-wins-or-better jumps, (the 2003 Bengals still pending) fell back by at least three victories the following season.

Franchises that turned big one-season turnarounds into sustained contention (Eagles, Patriots, Rams) laid considerable groundwork during 4-12 and 5-11 sufferings. The cap hasn't eliminated building cycles, only shortened them. Except in extraordinary cases, contending teams come together over two or three years.

So as long as the Giants were willing to take the long-term view by discarding a perfectly good quarterback for a potential all-timer, they are worse than contradicting themselves, probably holding themselves back, by not accelerating a youth movement.

It is a waste of time trying to bend a 32-year-old Strahan to Coughlin's iron will just to try to get to 8-8, when cutting veterans, signing young free agents, and stockpiling pliable draft choices makes more sense.

Some of these kids leave college without knowing how to read a watch anyway. As for Warner, he soon may not even know what day it is, a blessing when the time arrives to rationalize why he ever came here. Considering the circumstances, he probably will not get enough snaps to prove he can still be a winning quarterback. And if he does, that's just holding back Eli Manning, not what the Giants really want anyway.

They could have gotten a much cheaper punching bag for a few games and put Warner's $3 million to better use in the rebuilding project. Conflicting messages notwithstanding, that is exactly what they are. Before players like Strahan, Ike Hilliard and Tiki Barber move on, the Giants will be losing time, not just games, pretending otherwise.

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Eli Manning saw mop-up duty in Giants' Week 1 loss in Philly. It'll be bad sign if home fans, who have endured seven losses in row, call for him early in season.

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September 19, 2004 -- Is there any word that conjures up a feeling of disgrace and embarrassment more passionately as the one chosen by Giants co-owner Wellington Mara to describe his team's performance at home last season?

The Giants won their 2003 season opener and did not experience victory again, losing seven consecutive games at Giants Stadium to give the paying customers week upon week of heartache.

Mara, who always has a keen sense of what the fans want and grows despondent if they don't get it, did not need a soliloquy to get his sentiment across.

"Shameful," he said.

More than a year later, the Giants today attempt to do what they did on Sept. 7, 2003, when they harassed Rams quarterback Kurt Warner into six fumbles and six sacks, pummeling St. Louis 23-13. In a strange twist that never could have been anticipated, Warner now runs the Giants' offense and cranks it up for a new legion of fans who will undoubtedly not be in a forgiving mood. The Giants were smacked around 31-17 in Philadelphia in this year's opener and, with rising prospects of a rough first season for coach Tom Coughlin and the desire of many to see rookie Eli Manning on the field, patience will likely not be a widely held virtue as the Giants take on Joe Gibbs and the Redskins.

"We need to give them something," defensive end Michael Strahan said. "You want to forget about the year before, but it's kind of hard, especially when you really didn't win at home. It's definitely a tough game against a good team. But we have to win this game. We have to give our fans something to cheer about, something to look forward to."

Anyone tuning in last week had little to look forward to as the Giants went down hard to one of the NFL's top teams. Now come the Redskins, 1-0 after beating the Buccaneers 16-10, brimming with optimism with Gibbs dusting off his Hall of Fame legacy to bring order where there was chaos.

What, exactly, has Coughlin carted in? It's too early to tell. There's unrest, grumbling from veterans and thus far no semblance of winning football. Coughlin in seven years in Jacksonville was 40-24 in home games (28-4 from 1996-99) and he knows the importance of protecting your own turf.

"One of the oldest axioms in football is: 'Win at home, win at home,' " Coughlin said. "You are at home; you are in front of your home fans. You want to utilize your fans, the greatest fans in the world, to the best of your ability. You want to get the fans in the game. You want it to be a very pro-Giant crowd that is loud and supportive of our football team. That's what it should be at home. That is what I am expecting it to be at home."

Those expectations could get wrecked after the first three-and-out from Warner's offense or the first time Washington quarterback Mark Brunell (Coughlin's field general with the Jaguars) shreds a shaky Giants defense the way Donovan McNabb did a week ago. Warner's last game at the Meadowlands was a disaster and if he fumbles a snap or gives up an interception return for a touchdown, just wait for those "We want Eli" chants to come cascading down.

Relentlessly upbeat, Warner isn't thinking that way.

"I'm hoping it's going to be crazy," Warner said. "I'm hoping it's going to be loud, I hope it's going to be intimidating for Washington to come in here. I hope it's just a tremendous, electric atmosphere. It does nothing but help us, gives us an added edge, gives us an added excitement for the game."


Giants were truly bad in their opener but the Eagles were also truly great. Figure Kurt Warner holds on to the ball and gets his club in the end zone and the secondary proves it's not as bad as it showed. Finally, the fans go home happy.




Giants: OUT: FS Omar Stoutmire (knee), WR Jamaar Taylor (hamstring), CB Frank Walker (foot); QUESTIONABLE: OLB Carlos Emmons (groin), C Wayne Lucier (back).

Redskins: QUESTIONABLE: MLB Mike Barrow (knee), OLB LaVar Arrington (knee); PROBABLE: K John Hall (hamstring), FB Brian Kozlowski (calf).


Giants TE Jeremy Shockey vs. Redskins FS Sean Taylor. A rookie, Taylor is a stud who hails from the same Miami football factory as Shockey. When Shockey gets free in the secondary, wait for the sudden impact.


Steve Christie's 53-yard FG last week was the longest for the Giants since 1993.


Dealing with RB Clinton Portis, who ran for 148 yards in his first game for the Skins. All the Giants, especially LB Barrett Green, will have to eliminate those sloppy missed tackles.


Remember the famed Hogs? The Redskins' offensive line, now called the "Dirtbags," did not allow a sack and produced 166 rushing yards last week vs. the Bucs.

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Coaches not so fine on Tom

Tom Coughlin

Tom Coughlin's rules and fines have opened him up to criticism from an unexpected source: The tight-knit NFL head coaching fraternity.

"It's just demoralizing to your football team," one coach said. "I try to avoid fines at all costs."

The Daily News interviewed several head coaches last week after it was revealed Coughlin fined four players for being early, but not early enough, for meetings, one of his trademark rules. The consensus was Coughlin has gone too far. He has quickly become the most controversial coach in the NFL with his discipline obsession, which is exactly what Giants management wanted after last year's humiliating 4-12 meltdown.

"The sad part is you have to establish a relationship of trust. The players have to trust what you are doing and that it is going to beneficial to them as a player," said one coach, who has fined only five players for being late the last few years.

"When things aren't going good, you want the guys to hang in there. Hopefully, the players will then have your back. If you ask my players, they would say, "Coach, we've got your back." You've got to deal with these guys. They have to want to play for you."

Coughlin's teams have always played hard for him. But his arrive-five-minutes-early-or-get-fined rule even has his peers questioning what he's doing. Fining players for being late is standard in the NFL. Fining them for being early may be unprecedented - except when Coughlin was in Jacksonville - even if he tells them meetings start five minutes early. If a meeting is called for 8:30, then start it at 8:30 and fine anybody not there. Don't say it's 8:30 when you mean 8:25.

Treat them like men.

One head coach would be fined daily if he played for Coughlin. In order to give his players the benefit of the doubt, he intentionally shows up one minute late to all his own team meetings.

"I wait until the time of the meeting before I even leave my office," he said. "From the time it takes me to walk down the stairs, the trainers can check attendance and give me a nod. Some meetings are at 7:15. They are quite early. I don't want to fine guys just to be a (bad guy)."

This coach is no softie. In the last couple of years, he has handed out over $100,000 in fines for transgressions ranging from not bringing their notebooks to meetings to talking on their cell phones in the locker room to being late for meetings and weight lifting.

"Coughlin is trying to instill discipline," the coach said. "He can turn guys off, too. He has got his own style. The thing about it is he played in the AFC Championship Game, so who am I to criticize him? But this is a different breed of player and you have to understand that. Players now stand up to authority, but so does the entire country. We are raised to ask why."

The coach says he has cut fines from $1,400 to $500 for players who are late. "And they thank me," he said.

One coach had advice for the Giants players: "If the expectation is to be there five minutes early and you are going to take grief, just be there. They got to know that."

Still, he said, "I can't tell you what Tom is thinking, but I just know, you create problems. This stuff is hard enough."

Coughlin's hotel lobby dress code on road trips (no t-shirts in the lobby after checking in, for example) also caught the coaches by surprise.

"I never heard of it," one coach said. "I go to team meetings in the hotel in sweats."

"As long as they are not walking around half naked or look like a hobo," another coach said explaining his rule.

"Just don't look like a clown," is how one GM described his team's policy.

So, what is Coughlin doing? If he alienates enough players, can he ever win here or will he just have to get rid of those players? He seems headed for a nasty showdown with Michael Strahan, who in his 12th season, is set in his ways, but is still the Giants' best player, even if he shows up early, but not early enough.

"Tom is trying to establish who he is, his identity. Some guys are not going to like it," one coach said. "He'll eventually move those guys out. I tell my guys I don't have a lot of rules, I have expectations."

It's not as important for the players to like their coach as it is they respect him. Then when adversity comes, players don't quit on their coach. Coaches and players don't have to go out to dinner, but they do have to work together.

"I've always held that in high regard," one coach said. "It's based on production. Everybody is not the same. I would never put up with a [difficult player] if that guy doesn't play very well."

The GM said, "You can't hate the head coach. When things aren't going well and the finger-pointing starts, then the enemy lies within. Tom has got a rough road. That fine thing - that's terrible. And you're not coming in as an icon. You're a good coach, not a special coach. The players are thinking, 'Who does this guy think he is. He got fired.'"

But another coach said, "There's a lot of guys out there without jobs right now that the players really like. The biggest issue is competency and respect and can he help them win. There is a place for fines, no question. But you always try to do right by your guys."

Shortly after Joe Gibbs was hired in Washington, he said he doesn't have many rules except "use common sense and don't embarrass the Redskins."

Coughlin has a few more rules than that.

"Tom's persona is all about discipline," the GM said. "It's almost like you are a stepdad and you are coming into a family where the kids didn't have curfew. All of a sudden, it's cold turkey. You are going to get some rebellion. I'm not saying what he's saying isn't right, it's how you apply it. You are going to fight some wars. That's Tom's personality. He likes confrontation."

Coughlin has become a lightning rod. Well, at least it does take the focus off the fact if the Giants don't beat the Redskins today, they will have lost 10 straight games for the first time in their 80-year history. "I think Tom is a helluva good coach. Tom is 'my way or the highway.' He will fight until the end. Stubborn is only bad when you are wrong," the GM said. "I hate this public humiliation he's getting. You can say he brought it on himself."

Fassel? and Howe

Jim Fassel insisted on coaching the last two games for the Giants last year as a lame-duck after he initiated a meeting with team management in which they told him he would be fired after the final game. Now, Mets manager Art Howe has accepted management's request to complete the season after they told him he would be fired.

Why did Fassel stick around?

"I had a job to do and I was going to do it," he said.

He said it was not uncomfortable. "I'll tell you one thing: the players were good," he said. "They went out and played. They went out and busted their (butts). I have no regrets doing it."

The Giants, decimated by injuries at the time, hardly rallied around Fassel. They did not send him off with a goodbye victory. They lost to Dallas 19-3 and Carolina 37-24, finishing up 4-12 with an eight-game losing streak. Howe's situation is not likely to inspire the Mets, either.


The Panthers are already in huge trouble. They lost their opener at home to Green Bay and have to play in Kansas City today. Under the best of circumstances, that's a tough game to win. But now Carolina is without its two best offensive players. WR Steve Smith broke his leg against the Packers and is out indefinitely. Then RB Stephen Davis had arthroscopic knee surgery Friday and is out 2-5 weeks. It didn't take the Panthers long to realize it's going to be difficult to repeat as NFC champs.

Last week, Baltimore's Jamal Lewis was held to 57 yards rushing by the Browns. Last year, in the two games against Cleveland, Lewis had three carries for more than 57 yards on his way to rushing for 500 yards against the Browns.

Clinton Portis had a spectacular debut with the Redskins, scoring on a 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry. But on his next 28 carries, he had just 84 yards, which is three yards per carry. That's not a lot of yards, but it is a lot of carries for a back who is 5-11, 205. Joe Gibbs must remember this is not John Riggins in the backfield.

You have to wonder if Vinny Testaverde's 40-year old right arm is going to fall off if Bill Parcells has him throw 50 times a game, as he did in Dallas' opener. The most impressive stat was Testaverde was sacked only once. If Dallas is going to get a running game going it's got to come from No. 2 pick Julius Jones, because it doesn't look like Eddie George has too much left. Parcells, by the way, employed his familiar line anytime he loses a season opener "wondering whether you're ever going to win a game."

Denver's Mike Shanahan looks like he will have his fifth different 1,000-yard back since he took over in 1995. Quentin Griffin, who is just 5-foot-7, rushed for 156 yards as the starter taking over for Portis. Griffin is likely to follow Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Portis as 1,000-yard backs for Shanahan.

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Home improvement

Giants hope to turn things around at Meadowlands



PLAYBOOK: REDSKINS at GIANTS, at Meadowlands, 1:15 p.m.

If Tom Coughlin had any honeymoon at all with the Giants, it officially ended at halftime on Sept. 2. In the preseason finale, Coughlin's Giants were trailing the Baltimore Ravens by three touchdowns in a mostly meaningless game. Yet the sparse crowd at Giants Stadium booed the Giants off the field.

It's hard to imagine those fans will be any more patient this afternoon, when the Giants (0-1) face the Washington Redskins (1-0) in their home opener. It's been 378 days since Giants' last home win, which came in last season's opener. That's the worst home stretch since a 10-game streak lasted from Dec. 16, 1973 until Nov. 1, 1975.

"I'm sure they'll be very impatient," defensive end Keith Washington said. "They deserve a win. And not only do they deserve it, we deserve it for ourselves. The very nature of this season is we have to hold serve at home."

Actually, at this point the Giants would settle for winning anywhere at any time since they come into today's game riding a franchise-worst nine-game losing streak. They've been outscored 250-95 since their last win on Nov. 2 (ironically at Giants Stadium in a home game for the Jets). And they haven't even been within 12 points of winning since a 19-13 loss in Tampa on Nov. 24.

But nowhere has that pain been felt worse than at home where the Giants have been out-scored 180-97 in their last seven games. They've lost five times in blowouts, once on a last-minute punt return, and once because their kicker couldn't keep his last-second kickoff in bounds.

In fact, the streak has been so excruciating that Giants co-owner Wellington Mara called last season's 1-7 home record "shameful" when he addressed the Giants at the end of last season. The 88-year-old takes the fans' satisfaction personally and seriously. And when they booed and then abandoned the Giants during a loss to Buffalo last Nov. 30, Mara said their reaction was "a message that comes loud and clear."

Now they're all hoping that the fans' message today will be different. Of course that depends on how the Giants perform.

"I'm sure the fans will be justified in whatever means they take," safety Shaun Williams said. "But we can't worry about what the crowd is going to do. We've got to go out there and give them something to cheer about."

That won't be easy against a Redskins team that has been revitalized by the acquisition of running back Clinton Portis and the return of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. They also have a new quarterback in Mark Brunell, who was Coughlin's quarterback for eight seasons with the Jaguars. That trio helped the Redskins to a 16-10 opening day win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Still, this is a very winnable game for the Giants, especially at home. Coughlin has made restoring home-field advantage one of his top priorities. And he was forceful when he addressed that subject again this week.

"One of the oldest axioms in football is win at home," Coughlin said. "You're at home, in front of your home fans. You want to utilize your fans, the greatest fans in the world, to the best of your ability. You want to get the fans in the game. You want it to be a very pro-Giants crowd that is very loud and supportive of our football team. That's what it should be at home. That's what I'm expecting it to be at home."

If it is, then maybe Coughlin will end his own personal agony - it's been two years, nine months and four days since his last regular-season win (Dec. 15, 2002 with Jacksonville in Cincinnati). And it's been almost that long for his new quarterback, Kurt Warner, who hasn't won since the NFC Championship game on Jan. 27, 2002 - a wait of two years, seven months and 23 days.

But maybe there's some karma in the fact that Warner was present for the last Giants home win - a 23-13 win over his St. Louis Rams on Sept. 7. In fact, he was largely responsible for the victory by playing through a concussion and fumbling six times. The crowd at Giants Stadium was boisterous that day. And Warner hopes it'll be the same again this afternoon.

"I'm hoping it's going to be crazy," he said. "I'm hoping it's going to be loud. I hope it's going to be intimidating for Washington to come in here."

Otherwise it could be intimidating when the Giants try to leave.


THE LINE: Redskins by 3

TV: Ch. 5 (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Chris Collinsworth)

RADIO: WFAN 660AM (Bob Papa, Dick Lynch, Dave Jennings)

FORECAST: 68 degress with 0% chance of precipitation.


DE Michael Strahan (gluteal muscle) will probably play for the Giants, but they're not sure about LB Carlos Emmons (groin). His absence could hurt a defense that's already struggling. They've also lost FS Omar Stoutmire (knee) for the year. The Redskins are relatively healthy, though LB Lavar Arrington (knee) and K John Hall (hamstring) are probable. Ex-Giant LB Mike Barrow (knee) is not expected to play.


Strahan vs. RT Kenyatta Jones

Strahan might have had the edge in this battle if John Jansen were starting, but he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the preseason and is out for the year. The 6-3, 307-pound Jones is a decent fill in, but not in Strahan's class. Lucky for him, with the Giants not getting much of a pass rush elsewhere, Redskins OL coach Joe Bugel should be able to find Jones plenty of help.

TE Jeremy Shockey vs. SLB Marcus Washington

Shockey is just beginning to get his wind after sitting out the entire preseason, and when he's ready he'll become the centerpiece of the Giants' offense. That won't be easy this week, though. The 6-3, 247 Washington is one of the few LBs in the league with the speed to cover Shockey. He is outstanding when covering tight ends.


If you're the Giants, do you load up to stop Clinton Portis and dare Mark Brunell to beat you? Not the way their secondary is playing. If they do that, Brunell and Laveranues Coles could be as dangerous as Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens. On defense the Redskins are blitz happy. The Giants' offensive line was OK in Philly. We'll see if they can hold up again.


The Redskins are energized and happy now that Steve Spurrier is gone and Joe Gibbs is back - exactly the opposite of how the Giants are feeling under Tom Coughlin. The Giants are uptight and reeling from being blown out in Philadelphia last week. Being home should help, but it's hard to imagine it helping much. The Giants were 1-7 at home last season, including losses in their last seven.


REDSKINS (24-10)

The misery will end eventually … but not yet.

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