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Giants 17, Ravens 13


Call it New York 17, Baltimore 13.

Not exactly a classic, will Super Bowl XXXV be. It will probably end up somewhere between the Greatest Game Ever Played, when these two towns first met for a world title 43 years ago, and a tractor pull.

And it will probably come down to a guy who doesn't do standup (Tony Siragusa), commercials (Jason Sehorn and Shannon Sharpe), media seminars (Brian Billick), true confessions (Kerry Collins) or controversy (Ray Lewis).

"Who's going to be the next Stanford Jennings, Desmond Howard or Fulton Walker?" asked CBS radio analyst and former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, invoking names of men who returned kickoffs for Super Bowl touchdowns.

"Because that's what it's going to come down to," Esiason said. "It's going to be a very close game. It's going to be a very nasty game."

It's going to be a game between the Giants' funky, shifting offense against the Ravens' immovable record-setting defense.

The teams have combined with George W. Bush's cabinet to bore a nation to tears for the past two months. They've won a combined 17 straight games with rugged running games and rigid defenses.

The matchup within the matchup?

Giants offensive line coach Jim McNally preparing his players for the Baltimore defensive line's array of "line games." End-tackle stunts. Twists. Loops.

The matchup within the matchup?

Giants Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone against Ravens tackle Sam Adams. It's Stone's 320-pound mass vs. the quickest 350 pounds this side of a flatbed truck in Adams.

McNally was asked if he's reviewed the stunt executed by Adams and end Rob Burnett that ended with Burnett knocking out Bengals quarterback Akili Smith on a shot under the chin just as Smith stood up from taking the snap.

"You mean the one where they killed him?" McNally asked. "Yeah, I've seen it. They love to do that. They love it. The guard has to be able to recognize it and move."

But for all the defense, this is still a Super Bowl and that means it's still a quarterback's game.

Two weeks ago, just before the AFC championship game, Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome predicted tight end Shannon Sharpe would hold the key against the Raiders.

Oakland, Newsome thought, would jam the line of scrimmage with nine men and take the Ravens' wide receivers out of the game with their superb cover cornerbacks.


Sharpe broke open the game with a 96-yard reception that proved Super.


"A couple of big plays are


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going to have to be made," Newsome said this week. "And those plays are going to have to be made by one of the quarterbacks."

Newsome says Giants quarterback Kerry Collins is playing the best he's ever seen him. He always had the strong arm, but now the arm is hooked to a head making quick, right decisions.

But Newsome also said, "He hasn't played the Baltimore Ravens defense."

Jacksonville's Mark Brunell and the Jets' Vinny Testaverde have. They're big guys with strong arms like Collins who can drill the ball into small spaces.

They also had the best days against Baltimore's defense this season. Brunell threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns, but his team lost, 39-36, on Sept. 10.

On Christmas Eve, Testaverde threw for 481 yards, but New York lost, 34-20, despite his three touchdown passes and 69 attempts.

"The big question is what is Jim Fassel going to do?" asked Esiason of the Giants head coach. "I don't think he's decided in his own mind that he can't run the ball. But will he open it up?"

McNally isn't too sure the Giants can run and why not? The Ravens allow just 64 yards rushing per game and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 36 straight games.

"Let me see this thing. This is what they do," said McNally as he drew Baltimore's front seven in a reporter's notebook.

"They've got these ends (Burnett and Michael McCrary) who come out of there like missles. Like Bruce Smith. Bo-o-o-osh," McNally said.

"They've got these 350, 370-pound tackles (Adams and Tony Siragusa) and you can't move them back. Behind them you've got No. 52 (middle linebacker Ray Lewis) running around and he's fast and he's hard to get a body on. And No. 55 (Jamie Sharper) and No. 58 (Peter Boulware) are good backers, too.

"Where do you run? Maybe it's easier to pass block against them, but that's not saying very much."

The conventional wisdom is to spread the field against the Ravens and thin out their muscle.

"But that's putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Esiason said. "You spread it like that and the quarterback has to play perfect."

The thinking is the Giants' shifting formations will confuse the Ravens.

Maybe not paralyze them like the formations did to the Vikings. But make Baltimore huff-and-puff in a fast-break game. Maybe make those run-oriented linebackers cover running back Tiki Barber in the open field.

"I hope they come out with an air attack," Siragusa said. "There was one game earlier against the Jacksonville Jaguars where they said they got a lot of deep balls on us. I think the unique thing about this defense is, once something goes and hurts us, we concentrate on that. . .But if I think why (the Jets) got so many yards, I would have to point at our defense. We didn't do a good job of tackling, wrapping up and getting the guy down. That's something we addressed."

The Ravens are also stressing keeping Collins in the pocket, not letting him set his feet to throw, and not letting him get into a groove.

There will be defense. There will be a special teams play or two.

But this is the Super Bowl and that means a quarterback has to win it, not just not lose it.

David Woodley couldn't win a Super Bowl with his 63.5 passing rating. Nor could Tony Eason with his 67.5. Nor could Vince Ferragamo with his 49.

You have to put Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer in that category with his career rating of 70.

Dilfer hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards in a game since Nov. 19. His big game in the playoffs was 190 against the Raiders. He's completed 23 passes all post season.

Dilfer might not lose it.

But Collins has two plays in him that can win it.

Giants, 17-13.

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