EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sometimes, teams would rather be lucky than good. Sometimes, they need to be both.
Minutes after Matt Bahr's 40-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with no time left yesterday, the New York Giants were crediting both factors for their thrilling 20-19 come-from-behind triumph over the Phoenix Cardinals at Giants Stadium.
Whether luck or the Giants' tenacity under fire weighed more heavily is a point of conjecture. The bottom line is the Giants, facing their first defeat of the season, scored 10 points in the final 3:21 to improve to 6-0 and match the 49ers as the league's only unbeaten teams.
"I don't know if my heart can take too many more of those, fellas," said Giants coach Bill Parcells. "That was some game."
And some finish. It was the kind of win that builds character; the kind of game good teams somehow find a way to win. If the Giants go on to great things this season, they might look back at this game as the point where their heart matched their might.
It would have been easy to surrender when Al Del Greco kicked his fourth field goal of the day, a 45-yarder, to give the Cardinals a 19-10 lead with 5:38 left. Phil Simms was injured and on the bench, Carl Banks was in the hospital recuperating from wrist surgery, and the NFC East lead would still be theirs, albeit by one game instead of two.
Yet, behind backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler, the Giants revived themselves to steal the win and send the Cardinals home with their fourth loss in six games.
A beautiful 38-yard pass from Hostetler to Stephen Baker when the Giants badly needed a lift, made it 19-17 with 3:21 left. Then, after a mighty stand by the defense, Hostetler, with no timeouts and 58 seconds left, hit Mark Ingram for 26 yards and Lionel Manuel for 18 to position Bahr for his first winning kick in a Giants uniform.
"It was an adverse situation and I wanted to prove that I could play in that situation," said Hostetler, who finished 11 of 21 for 180 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I wanted to make the right reads, not make any mistakes and get the ball downfield. We kept plugging away, and we held together as a team. There was no dissension. It was a real positive thing."
Said Parcells, "I thought it was an outstanding comeback and a great job by Hostetler. I'm glad he's been around for the time he has because I don't know if a guy with less experience could have done what he did."
Hostetler's blood-and-guts performance was the key to the Giants' fourth straight win over the Cardinals. He entered the game in the second quarter after Simms injured his left ankle on the Giants' last offensive play of the first quarter while being sandwiched by the Cardinals' Ken Harvey and Cedric Mack.
Though the Giants were heavy favorites, it was the Cardinals who played the heavy. With Johnny Johnson's 108 rushing yards providing most of the offense, the Cardinals used Del Greco field goals of 34, 18, 34 and 45 yards and a 1-yard tackle-eligible pass to Luis Sharpe to build what seemed an insurmountable lead.
The trouble started after the Giants took the opening possession and drove 70 yards on 11 plays, scoring on a 4-yard run by Ottis Anderson. The drive was kept alive when the Giants faked a punt and Lee Rouson carried 3 yards for a first down. Anderson (88 yards, 11 carries) also had a 28-yard gain during the drive, his longest rush of the season.
But after that, the Giants sputtered on both sides of the ball. A 27-yard punt return by Towson State product David Meggett helped set up a 34-yard field goal by Bahr for a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, but the Cardinals scored 16 unanswered points, drawing the first boos of the season from the crowd of 76,518.
Hostetler was having his problems, too. Showing some antsy feet, he was sacked four times and threw one interception.