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Vikings Oust Giants in Playoffs

In Jim Fassel’s first year as coach, the Giants surprised everyone by rebounding from a 6-10 season to become 10-5-1 division champs in 1997. The team’s success was built on a solid defense and a careful ball-control offense that relied on a committee of runners made up of Charles Way, Tiki Barber, and Tyrone Wheatley. In the playoffs, these overachievers were done in by mistakes and a loss of poise in a sloppy game in which the Vikings scored 10 points in the final 90 seconds.

At the outset, it was Minnesota making mistakes, but the Giants failed to fully capitalize. Two Randall Cunningham fumbles in the first quarter were recovered by the Giants and led to field goals. In the second quarter, a short punt by Minnesota gave New York good field position, and they drove 56 yards to score on a two-yard pass from Danny Kanell to tight end Aaron Pierce. Cunningham was then intercepted by Jason Sehorn, and that led to another field goal and a 16-0 lead with five minutes left in the first half. An Amani Toomer fumbled punt allowed Minnesota to get on the board with a field goal in the last two minutes. However, when Mitch Berger’s kickoff went out of bounds, the Giants had great field position. Brad Daluiso then kicked a 51-yard field goal to end the half up 19-3.

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In the second half, the Giants began to implode. A Tiki Barber fumble on the New York 4-yard line led to a Vikings touchdown on the next play late in the third quarter, but the Giants still led by nine. A 14-yard Brad Maynard punt led to another Minnesota field goal at the start of the fourth quarter. Even more disturbing was an on-field argument between Giants defensive backs Phillippi Sparks and Conrad Hamilton in the midst of that drive that led to a physical confrontation between Sparks, Hamilton, and linebacker Jesse Armstead on the sideline. Meanwhile, defensive ends Michael Strahan and Keith Hamilton were going at it themselves, both on the field and off. New York still answered that field goal with the best drive of the day 13 plays covering 74 yards and Daluiso nailed his fifth field goal to restore the nine-point lead, 22-13, with seven minutes left.

A few minutes later, a 26-yard punt by Brad Maynard gave Minnesota the ball on the New York 49. Two Cunningham passes 19 yards to Cris Carter and a 30-yard score to Jake Reed pulled the Vikings within two. With the onside kick coming, the Giants put their best ball handlers on the field for what proved to be the most disappointing play of the game. Kicker Eddie Murray dribbled the ball to

Giants defensive lineman Keith Hamilton sits dejectedly on the sideline after the Giants loss to the Vikings.

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