Players blame themselves, not coach
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants players don't seem to agree with their fans when it comes to coach Jim Fassel.
Halfback Tiki Barber, quarterback Kerry Collins, linebacker Mike Barrow and defensive end Michael Strahan all came to Fassel's defense Sunday after angry fans chanted for the coach to be fired during a 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
"We're making him look bad, because it's not him, it's us, and me in particular," Barber said after the Giants (4-5) put on a dreadful performance in helping end Atlanta's seven-game losing streak.
The Giants turned the ball over four times, including two fumbles by Barber inside the Falcons 22-yard line. Collins also threw two interceptions, one which ended a potential go-ahead drive just before halftime and another that allowed Atlanta to build a 20-7 third-quarter lead.
"Does anyone want Jim to get fired?" Collins said. "No! Are we a long way from that? I think so. Let's not completely think the end of the world is coming because there is a lot of football left in this season and a lot can happen.
"I believe in the character of the guys on this team and I think we'll come back, and it may not be pretty all the time, but we will come back."
Coming back won't be easy, although getting away from Giants Stadium might help. New York is 1-4 at home and 3-1 on the road.
The Giants play games at Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in the next two weeks.
"It's not on Jim, it's on us," Barrow said. "He's definitely done all he can to put us in position to win. It's the little things that destroy this team and he is on top of the little things. We are beating ourselves and that's just unacceptable."
Fassel spent the entire week telling his team this was a "trap game." He said Atlanta was playing better than its record indicated and that the Giants could not afford a bad game.
The Giants weren't bad. They were horrible.
Chants of "Fire Fassel" were clearly audible throughout Giants Stadium in the final minute of the third quarter with New York down by 14 points.
"That's really encouraging!" Strahan said of the chant. "In my opinion it is stupid. If you are going to come out and support, then come out and support. If you are not and you are a Giants fan, then stay at home. I don't show up at your job when you are doing bad and yell, 'Fire you.'
"The man is doing his best and that is that," Strahan said.
Fassel has led the Giants to the playoffs in three of his six seasons, going to the Super Bowl in 2000.
From the fans' perspective, the Giants have been a major disappointment this season. After making the playoffs last season by winning seven of nine games, New York is now below .500 with seven games to go. Two of its five losses came in games where it squandered a late fourth-quarter lead.
"It's time to put up or shut up," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "We didn't play smart football. We didn't play good at all. We can't come in with self pity on Monday. We have to figure out what the problems are and get them corrected. We have seven games left and we have to make a difference."
If not, the fans might get their wish.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press