Giants brace for bombs away

Moss and Vikings pose high-flying test in N.Y.

January 10, 2001|By NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - When the celebrating stopped on Sunday night, the New York Giants were faced with a sobering thought: They may be one victory away from their improbable dream of playing in the Super Bowl, but to earn it they've got to shut down the scariest offense in the NFL this side of the St. Louis Rams.

Indeed, last week the Giants compared Donovan McNabb to Michael Jordan, but he was a one-man show.

Now as the Minnesota Vikings come to town for the NFC championship game, the metaphor of choice is baseball, and that's Mark McGwire at the plate with the bases loaded.

Or as middle linebacker Mike Barrow put it Monday, "Anytime they're on the field, they've got a chance to hit a home run."

Randy Moss is the most imposing long-ball threat in the game, as he proved again Saturday by turning two routine catches into 123 yards and a pair of stunning touchdowns that destroyed the New Orleans Saints.

But unlike McNabb, he has plenty of help.

Cris Carter is as clutch a receiver as Moss is dangerous; Robert Smith piled up 1,521 yards rushing this season, second only to Edgerrin James; and Daunte Culpepper does a pretty fair imitation of McNabb himself, only at 250 pounds.

"They're very similar to St. Louis," Barrow said. "Comparing the Philadelphia offense to this offense, it's like night and day."

Obviously, that's a huge challenge for the defense, but it also means that for the Giants to win, their offense can't get away with scoring a total of six points, as it did against the Eagles.

"This is a team that can put up points real quick," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "Randy Moss may be the most dangerous player in the game.

"A team like that, if they make four big plays in a game ... it's over. I don't care what else you do. You can be stopping the run, you can do this, but that team's just got some explosiveness to it.

"So our offense is going to have to step up and do some things to help out the overall picture."

Yes, the Giants will have to play more boldly, and the Vikings have a defense they can attack. In fact the Minnesota `D' ranked 28th in the NFL this season, and was especially vulnerable in the secondary, surrendering 244.6 yards through the air per game.

More than likely, however, the game will be decided by the Giants' ability to stop the Vikings. In Week 15 last season, the Vikes, with Jeff George at quarterback, won at Giants Stadium, 34-17, to crush the Giants' playoff hopes.

However, that was an injury-ravaged, emotionally scarred defense that bears little semblance to the one the Giants have displayed this season, particularly over the last six games.

"We had some guys hurt when we played them last year," said linebacker Jessie Armstead, who was limping on a bad knee himself at the time. "Now you see us out there, we're leaving nothing on the field."

During their six-game winning streak, the Giants have had great success with the blitz. But where the Eagles' rather ordinary wide receivers allowed the Giants to take chances chasing McNabb and playing tight man-to-man coverage, the presence of Moss and Carter makes such a proposition riskier.

As Armstead said: "You can't play Moss with just one guy."

But if cornerback Jason Sehorn is at the top of his game again, the Giants may take some chances with him in single coverage. After his spectacular interception on Sunday, the Giants are again thinking he can do anything.

"That was supernatural," Barrow said. "It's not just about Jason Sehorn vs. Randy Moss, but that's a matchup that people will be excited to see, because it's two great athletes."

Whatever the Giants' plan, the Vikings represent something of an ultimate test for a defense that had severe coverage problems this season in losing to the likes of the Rams, Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions.

Surely that's why the Giants, home field or no, are two-point underdogs. By now they're used to it.

"You've got to go out and prove people wrong every week at this time of year," said Armstead. "They've probably got the best offense in the league, but this week it's going to come down to who wants it the most."

NFC title game

Minnesota Vikings (12-5) at N.Y. Giants (13-4)

Where: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Line: Vikings by 2

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