Fallout with Jim Fassel set stage for Sean Payton’s Super Bowl run with Saints

Sean Payton didn't know Bill Parcells before he went to work for him in 2003 in Dallas, but getting him on his resume for three years was the best move of Payton's career. And it never would have happened if Jim Fassel didn't demote Payton with the Giants and take away his playcalling responsibilities during the 2002 season. Fassel, who has been unable to get another NFL head coaching job since the Giants fired him at the end of the '03 season, is getting ready for his second season coaching the Las Vegas team in the United Football League. Payton, meanwhile, is a Super Bowl champion and the hottest coach in the league. "I really am proud of him," Fassel told the Daily News. "I saw him grow with the Giants. I could see his leadership qualities. I gave him more responsibilities and he grew with it." Well, he gave him more until he took it away. On a staff that also included John Fox, who went to the Super Bowl with the Panthers in 2003, it turns out that Payton, who had only two years of NFL coaching experience with the Eagles when Fassel hired him as his quarterbacks coach in 1999, was the best coach on that Giants staff. During Payton's first season with the Giants, Fassel's mother was sick and eventually died. In the week prior to the Giants playing the Jets that season, Fassel traveled back forth to California for his mother's funeral. He allowed Payton to call the plays for the first time. The Giants scored 41 points against Parcells. Fassel gave Payton the playcalling job full-time after the Jets game and promoted him to offensive coordinator after the season. The Giants then made it to the Super Bowl in 2000. But the Giants were just 7-9 in 2001 and 3-4 through the first seven games of 2002 after a 17-3 loss to the Eagles. The offense had scored just seven touchdowns. Payton's mother had recently died, and Fassel knew how that impacted him three years earlier. So, he demoted Payton and resumed calling the plays himself. "He handled it Continue Reading

NFL Power Rankings: Are we heading for undefeated Super Bowl battle between Colts and Saints?

1. Colts (12-0; Last Week 1)Saints in the Super Bowl? 2. Saints (12-0; LW 2)Washington, you know it's a special season. 3. Vikings (10-2; LW 3)Is Brett Favre starting a December meltdown, which has been his recent history? He had three picks in the first 11 games and two in last week's loss to the Cardinals. 4. Chargers (9-3; LW 4) 5. Bengals (9-3; LW 7) 6. Eagles (8-4; LW 8)NFC East. Huge game vs. Giants on the road Sunday night. 7. Cardinals (8-4; LW 9) 8. Broncos (8-4; LW 10)Will they be the team to stop the Colts undefeated season? They are playing well again and go to Indy on Sunday. 9. Packers (8-4; LW 11) 10. Cowboys (8-4; LW 6) 11. Patriots (7-5; LW 5) 12. Giants (7-5; LW 15)Showed some pride beating the Cowboys. Need to show some more to beat the Eagles. 13. Jaguars (7-5; LW 17)Miami on Sunday and home against Colts next Thursday. 14. Dolphins (6-6; LW 18)Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown, their two most important offensive players on last year's AFC title team, and still hanging in the division and wild-card race. 15. Ravens (6-6; LW 12)Joe Flacco. 16. Steelers (6-6; LW 13) 17. Jets (6-6; LW 21)Mark Sanchez, slide. 18. Titans (5-7; LW 17) 19. Falcons (6-6; LW 16)Injuries to Matt Ryan and Michael Turner destroyed their playoff hopes. 20. Texans (5-7; LW 19) 21. 49ers (5-7; LW 20)Mike Singletary is building this team. 22. Panthers (5-7; LW 22)John Fox be back next year or will Bill Cowher be the coach? 23. Seahawks (5-7; LW 24)Tim Ruskell resigned. Mike Holmgren could be back, but this time in a Bill Parcells-type role. 24. Redskins (3-9; LW 25)Jim Zorn. 25. Bears (5-7; LW 26)Jay Cutler doesn't play better next year, then what's next for the Bears? Jim McMahon? 26. Raiders (4-8; LW 28)JaMarcus Russell when you have Bruce Gradkowski? 27. Bills (4-8; LW 23) T.O. plays another season in Buffalo. Then again, I was shocked he signed with the Bills this year. 28. Chiefs (3-9; LW 27)Matt Continue Reading

Indianapolis Colts hold out hope that Dwight Freeney can play in Super Bowl despite injured ankle

FORT LAUDERDALE - The Colts are preparing to play the Super Bowl without Dwight Freeney. It remains a longshot for the All-Pro defensive end to be ready to go after Drew Brees with what is being called a third-degree sprain of the right ankle. It is in essence a torn ligament suffered late in the AFC Championship Game win over the Jets. Colts coach Jim Caldwell had no real update after the team arrived at its headquarters Monday. In general, the Colts organization rivals Bill Belichick's Patriots for secrecy. "He's healing," Caldwell said. "I'm not certain of all of the details, but it is a third-degree sprain. That's about all I can tell you." Freeney arrived in advance of the team to begin treatment, including the hyperbaric chamber that speeds healing. He isn't expected to hit the practice field at all so it could be a last-minute, game-time decision. "He's not going to be practicing, so if he's not practicing obviously we're preparing as if he's not going to play," Caldwell said. "If we have an opportunity to get him in there, we'll do so." Freeney's teammates are holding out hope. He's a fast healer who returned quickly from a quad injury earlier this season. "Obviously he's injured but he works around the clock on his injuries and if there's any chance that someone could play, Dwight's the guy. He has Wolverine-like characteristics," linebacker Gary Brackett said, comparing him to the X-Men's quick recovering character. "Dwight's a very unique individual. He doesn't necessarily need a whole bunch of practices. He can still go and perform at a high level." Cornerback Kelvin Hayden had "no doubt" Freeney will play. "We really rely on every player on defense," he said. "If Freeney is not there, the next guy will be in there and I guarantee he will be effective. That's one thing about our defense. We're confident in anyone who's going to be out there. Dwight is a great player. He's not going to be easily replaced. It's going to take two or three Continue Reading

Rex Ryan will lead New York Jets to Super Bowl XLV against Cowboys in Dallas

MIAMI - They say everything is bigger and better in Texas, so Super Bowl XLV will have an all-time first: The Cowboys will be the first team to play the game on their home field. And their opponent? The J-E-T-S. Seriously. Now that the 2009 season is over, it's time for our annual day-after look at what's going to happen next season. It would be just the Jets' luck that after a 41-year Super Bowl drought they finally make the game and then have to deal with playing in Jerry Jones' billion-dollar palace in Arlington with 80% of the 100,000 fans rooting against them. What happens in one NFL season in the free-agent era usually is not a good forecaster for the next year - the Saints finished last in the NFC South in '08 - but with the restrictive changes in free agency in the upcoming and presumably uncapped year, player movement is going to slow down. That would allow teams a better opportunity to keep their rosters intact and build on strong finishes. Since free agency began in 1993, rosters have turned at about 30% per year. The Jets and Cowboys each finished the regular season on a hot streak. The Jets won five of their last six games, then beat the Bengals and Chargers on the road in the playoffs and had a 17-6 lead two minutes before the half in the AFC Championship Game before Peyton Manning stepped on the gas. That gives Rex Ryan something to build on as long as he can control himself and not flip off any more fans in the offseason. Mark Sanchez took a giant step in the playoffs and if Leon Washington is able to rebound from his broken leg and Mike Tannenbaum can find Sanchez a big-time receiver in the draft (Notre Dame's Golden Tate or USC's Damien Williams), then the Jets should be able to open up the offense. If it's not the Jets, then I like the Steelers and Colts in the AFC next year. Dallas finished the season by getting blown out in the divisional round by the Vikings, one week after winning its first playoff game since 1996. The Continue Reading

Sunday Morning Quarterback: Giants & Jets Super Bowl would be fun

The NFL season has made the turn for home with two first-place New York teams, so it's at least realistic for fans around here to start dreaming about a Subway Super Bowl in Tampa on Feb. 1. This could be a special season. OUR EXPERTS CALL THE SHOTSOnly five times in the nearly 50 years the Giants and Jets have shared New York have they made the playoffs at the same time. Never have they advanced past the divisional round and into the conference championship game in the same year with a chance to meet in the Super Bowl. The Giants and Jets in the best sports event in the world would be even bigger than the Mets-Yankees Subway Series in 2000 because it would be a one-game winner-take-all. The buildup would be off the charts. Just put the game in Giants Stadium to save travel expenses. Nobody outside New York got worked up for the Mets-Yankees in the World Series. Football is different. Teams have fans everywhere. Brett Favre is a national figure - and cheeseheads who still love Favre would be rooting for the Jets. GIANTS EDGE EAGLESLast year, the Giants' image-boosting three-point loss to the undefeated Patriots in the final game of the regular season gave them the confidence and momentum to go on their Super Bowl run. And the Jets' wild overtime victory over the Patriots on Thursday night could turn out to be their season-defining moment. "Time will tell," Favre said. "I don't know. Whatever happens from this point forward, happens. But it can't hurt it. We are 7-3. It was an unbelievable game. It wasn't the Super Bowl. We still got a lot of football left." Still, it was the day Favre officially became a Jet and forever earned a spot in the hearts of Jets fans. He beat the hated Patriots. But let's keep it in perspective. The win came against New England's JV team. The Pats were missing Tom Brady, Laurence Maroney, Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas and Ty Warren. But when you are the Jets and you've been humiliated for years by the Patriots, you Continue Reading

News picks Giants all-Super Bowl team

PHOENIX - When they transport the podium to the center of the University of Phoenix Stadium field at about 11 o'clock Sunday night, the party will stretch all the way from the desert to Broadway if Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning are lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy with Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" providing the background music. This is the Giants' fourth Super Bowl after winning Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXV, then losing Super Bowl XXXV seven years ago. There is no more exhilarating moment in sports than winning this game. There is also no more agonizing end to a season than finishing second in the Super Bowl. After missing out on the first 20 Super Bowls, the Giants have now made it to four of the last 22 with some of the greatest players in team history. So, we've put together an all-Super Bowl team from the Giants' four Super Bowl seasons. The criteria is not only how they played in the Super Bowl, although that certainly helps, but also how they played during the season. That allows the inclusion of some players from this year's Giants team, who are trying to beat the Patriots and end their dream for a perfect 19-0 season. QUARTERBACK: Phil Simms, Super Bowl XXI Is there any doubt? He was the MVP of the 39-20 victory over the Broncos with what is still the gold standard for Super Bowl quarterbacks. He was nearly perfect completing 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three TDs as he completely outplayed John Elway. "If I look back on my career, it's probably the one game where, no question, I had a chance of completing every pass," he said. His 88% completion rate stood as an NFL playoff record until Tom Brady completed 26-of-28 (93%) in this year's divisional round against the Jaguars. It remains a Super Bowl record. If Simms had not injured his foot late in the 1990 season and was able to complete the Giants' run to their second Super Bowl title, he would have made it into the Hall of Fame. Instead, Jeff Hostetler did an excellent Continue Reading

Randy Moss hopes to make impact for Patriots in first Super Bowl

GLENDALE, Ariz. - It took 10 years for Randy Moss to reach the Super Bowl, and he sounded Tuesday like a man determined to seize the opportunity. This is his legacy moment, which means it could be an uh-oh moment for the Giants. He won't - repeat, won't - accept a third straight one-reception performance. "No, not in the Super Bowl. ... I'm setting myself up to come out and show the world what I've really got," an ultra-confident Moss told half the Western-civilization media (or so it appeared) at Super Bowl media day. Moss caught only one pass in each of the Patriots' playoff victories, a dramatic drop-off from his record-setting regular season. That he didn't complain showed his new-found maturity. That the Patriots advanced anyway underscored the frightening diversity of their offense, which proved it can win without its No.1 weapon. But does anybody really believe the Patriots can complete their perfect season if Moss puts up Justin McCareins-like numbers on Sunday? The Jaguars and Chargers did a fantastic job of controlling Moss, who set a league record with 23 touchdown receptions. They used a variety of two-man coverages, often jamming him at the line of scrimmage - a tactic he didn't see too often in the regular season. "I guess teams are trying something new," said fellow receiver Donte Stallworth. The Patriots must figure out a way to free Moss, who already has shown the ability to shred the Giants' secondary. In the regular-season finale, he caught six passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns, including blowing by Sam Madison on a signature 65-yarder. This time, the Giants, with an improved secondary, figure to take a more aggressive approach with Moss. They will get in his face and try to rough him up because, as cornerback R.W. McQuarters said, "That's our brand of football. Get our hands on the receivers and disrupt their routes." Good luck. Tuesday, Moss was talking like he expects a monster game. "Before I retired, I wanted Continue Reading

Inside the Super Bowl Matchups

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Quarterback vs. Defensive scheme Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees likens Eli Manning to a baseball player on an 18-game hitting streak. He's hot and making all the throws, especially those back-shoulder passes to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. After leading the NFL with 20 INTs in the regular season, Manning hasn't been picked off in three playoff games - one of the reasons the Giants have gotten this far. Of course, it all started with the comfort zone the Pats gave him the last time. Hit just twice, Manning burned New England with an early deep ball, then picked the Patriots apart underneath. The Patriots' defense is still talking about what a terrible game it played. Obviously, the Giants' offensive coaching staff is trying to anticipate the inevitable adjustments that Belichick and his staff will make after scrutinizing the tapes and having two weeks to tinker. They are not a heavy blitz team and they don't play much press coverage, but they do disguise their coverages very well and bring pressure when you least expect it. If they stay with their philosophy, they will try to force Manning to be patient and wait for the turnover or two that can turn this game around. As long as the game stays close, Manning should be able to manage it as he has been. If the Patriots get up by two scores, the danger increases. EDGE: Even Running Backs vs. Linebackers The Giants have to feel they can take advantage of the Pats' plodding, over-the-hill gang of LBs by pounding them with Brandon Jacobs and dazzling them with Ahmad Bradshaw. One of the unsung heroes of the Giants has been 266-pound fullback Madison Hedgecock as a lead blocker, taking up the slack lost when Jeremy Shockey's injury took away their two-TE looks. Hedgecock will be key to Jacobs' success as he leads him into holes, looking to plow under ILB Junior Seau in particular and Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel whenever he can. Change of pace back Bradshaw missed Continue Reading

It’ll be Jags-Cowboys in Super Bowl XLIII

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Roger Goodell doesn't have to worry about SpyGate hanging over next year's Super Bowl in Tampa - because Bill Belichick and the Patriots won't be in it. It had to be humiliating for the commissioner that the focus in the days leading up to the Patriots' pursuit of perfection against the Giants turned from one of the most anticipated matchups in Super Bowl history to SpyGate Sen. Arlen Specter questioned why Goodell destroyed the tapes and notes from the scandal and whether Belichick cheated in winning his first Super Bowl six years ago by having a member of his staff videotape the Rams walkthough the day before the game. The 2007 season was dominated by Patriot news from the first day to the last. But now that the Super Bowl is over and the other 30 teams are back in play, the Daily News takes it annual day-after-the-game look into what will happen next season. So here are a few predictions for 2008: 1. It will be the Jaguars and the Cowboys in the Super Bowl in Tampa. The biggest negative is we won't get to watch T.O. cry again about Tony Romo after losing an early-round game. That was one of the highlights of the season. T.O. should win best supporting actor in a comedy because the free-flowing tears were simply hysterical. And after a Super Bowl with so much Gisele talk, it will be Jessica Simpson's turn next year, providing of course she and Romo are still together. Jacksonville supposedly was the team nobody wanted to play in the playoffs, but then the Patriots eliminated them in the divisional round. David Garrard will benefit from the experience he had in his first year as the full-time starter. Here's the key for the Jags: They must beat the Colts in the AFC South so they can get some home games in the playoffs. Super Bowl XLIII prediction: Jaguars 28, Cowboys 21 2. Were the Giants built to last? They may be one-year wonders getting to the Super Bowl, but they will get back into the playoffs next year as a wild-card again Continue Reading

Giants beating Patriots in Super Bowl would not be so upsetting

The line on the Super Bowl is out of line. Now that doesn't mean the Patriots can't give the Giants the same kind of beatdown they gave a lot of teams this season. It has happened before in the Super Bowl and could happen again in Glendale, Ariz. No, the line is out of line because nobody who saw Patriots 38, Giants 35 on the last Saturday in December, whether they were at Giants Stadium or just watching the game on television, can think that the Patriots are nearly two touchdowns better. "It's not like they beat us 48-7," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said Wednesday, about to get on a plane and come home after a day spent scouting at the Senior Bowl. "We have all the respect in the world for the Patriots, but we had every opportunity to win that game." Reese paused then and said, "Listen, we don't come to this looking to shock the world. We can't look at this and say, We're trying to be one of those teams, pull off one of the great upsets of all time. We're just trying to win one more game. That's our deal: Win one more game." What the Giants really try to do in Super Bowl XLII is upset history, as much history as this game has ever seen, because they are all that is standing between the Patriots and what would be the greatest single season in the history of professional sports. And whatever the Giants say, from the general manager to the coach to the players, as they try mightily not to say anything as dumb as other teams have been saying about them lately, they go into this thinking the sides are even. Because they have no chance to do this if they don't think that way. "If the Patriots win the game, if they go unbeaten and have the greatest season and whatever, God bless them," Jerry Reese said. "All we can do is play our game. One more game. Take care of the ball like we have been. Play together like we have been. If there's been one tremendous thing these last few weeks, in the locker room and on the field, it's been Continue Reading