Cleveland (1-1) at New York (1-1)

Fair Currently: East Rutherford, NJ
Temp: 69° F
  • Game info: 1:00 pm EDT Sun Sep 26, 2004
  • TV: CBS
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The New York Giants’ nightmarish 2003 had its roots in the team’s stunning defeat against San Francisco in a wild-card game the previous season.

This week, they’ll face one of the players most responsible for that loss when they host quarterback Jeff Garcia and the Cleveland Browns, who are looking to regroup after a lackluster performance.

The 49ers trailed the Giants 38-14 at home in a wild-card playoff game on Jan. 5, 2003, before Garcia led his team back for a 39-38 victory that saw New York botch the snap on a potential game-winning 41-yard field-goal attempt. Garcia picked apart the Giants defense, going 27-for-44 for 331 yards, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another score as the Niners pulled off the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.

The season that followed for New York was a disaster, as the Giants finished 4-12, lost their last eight games and saw coach Jim Fassel dismissed.

The franchise-record losing streak reached nine after the first game of this season, but the Giants finally got their first win since defeating the Jets in overtime on Nov. 2, holding off Washington 20-14 last week.

Linebacker Barrett Green scored on a 16-yard fumble return and the Giants forced seven turnovers to give Fassel’s replacement, Tom Coughlin, his first victory with New York.

“We definitely needed a win with all that was going on around here,” said defensive end Michael Strahan, one of several Giants who have feuded with Coughlin over his rigid approach. “Winning helps heal some of that.”

While few think these Giants are a contender, their performance last week was the best they’ve looked in a while. The aggressive, opportunistic defense was complemented by a strong game from Kurt Warner, who was 22-of-33 for 232 yards and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Tim Carter in the second quarter.

“I think we confused them a little bit,” said defensive tackle Fred Robbins, who also had a forced fumble and an interception. “We kept bringing different things at them and when we needed big plays, we made them.”

The Giants are likely to rely on defensive coordinator Tim Lewis’ complex schemes again Sunday against Garcia, who last week played nothing like the quarterback that New York couldn’t handle in the playoffs. Garcia, released by the 49ers after last season, went 8-for-27 for 71 yards with a rating of 0.0 as the Browns lost 19-12 at Dallas.

“Put it behind me,” Garcia said of how he dealt with the awful performance. “I know I haven’t had many of those experiences in the past. I don’t want to be that person that says everyone has a bad day. It’s a situation that I don’t want to have repeated.”

The Browns gave up 441 yards and had just 202 themselves, with their only points coming on four field goals by Phil Dawson. The Cowboys drove to at least the Cleveland 43-yard line on 10 of 11 possessions, and only a mistake-filled performance by Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde and several other Cowboys miscues kept the Browns in it.

Cleveland came in confident after an impressive 20-3 victory over Baltimore and was looking to go 2-0 for the first time since 1993. Instead, the Browns will be dealing with major injury problems this week after five starters, including rookie tight end Kellen Winslow, got hurt.

Winslow’s injury was the worst, as he suffered a broken leg and is lost for at least two months after scrambling to recover an onside kick in the closing seconds. Cleveland also lost defensive end Courtney Brown, defensive tackles Gerard Warren and Orpheus Roye and offensive tackle Ryan Tucker.

“We need to play better offense,” Browns coach Butch Davis said. “Somehow we have to figure out how to make first downs and turn these turnovers into points.”

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