EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It started out as an awful day for the Giants.
Their coach had just left a hospital bed. They gave up a safety in the first four minutes. They could not run the ball, and the Minnesota Vikings could. They looked baffled, and they fell behind.
In the fourth quarter, it all changed. The defense awakened and let the Giants score the last 13 points of the game.
One sack by Erik Howard and another by Lawrence Taylor and Mike Fox set up a touchdown; interceptions by Greg Jackson and Gary Reasons set up two field goals.
The result was glorious for the Giants.
They ended up beating the Vikings, 23-15, to clinch the National Conference Eastern Division title for the second straight year. They also ended a losing streak at two games and ran their record to 11-2.
The Giants had already clinched a wild-card berth in the NFL playoffs. The Vikings, who started horribly this season, had won their five previous games. The loss dropped their record to 6-7 and dimmed their playoff prospects.
Yesterday, Taylor rattled the Vikings' offense with 12 tackles (9 solo, including an ankle tackle that saved a touchdown), 2 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and a forced interception.
Old Ottis Anderson and young Rodney Hampton pounded the Vikings' defense on the ground. But the Giants' victory came under unusual circumstances.
Coach Bill Parcells spent Saturday night in Morristown (N.J.) Memorial Hospital after a kidney-stone attack. He left the hospital yesterday morning and after the game he returned.
Today, he will undergo a procedure to alleviate the condition, and if all goes well, he is expected to be back with the team Wednesday, the team's medical staff said.
"I'm just real happy," Parcells said after the victory. "Write about that game."
In that game, all of the Giants' scoring was done by Anderson (touchdown runs of 1 and 2 yards) and Matt Bahr (field goals of 36, 48 and 18 yards).
The last field goal came with 33 seconds left in the game after Anderson had apparently run 4 yards for a touchdown. Bill Fette, the replay official, ruled that Anderson had been stopped inches short of the goal line.
Anderson battered his way to 26 yards on 15 carries. At age 33, he became only the eighth running back in NFL history to reach 10,000 yards in his career. He finished the game with 10,012 career yards and the football that put him over 10,000, although the officials gave him the ball one play late.
The crowd of 76,121 fans at Giants Stadium was stunned and sometimes sullen. It booed when Sean Landeta's first punt sailed only 35 yards into a stiff wind. It booed when Anderson was stopped inside the Vikings' 1-yard line before his first touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Vikings were pulling out the stops. They ran two reverses in a four-play span. They used tosses, tight-end screens, bootlegs, anything to keep the Giants' defense off balance.
"We didn't know what was going to happen," Jackson said. "They threw everything at us."
"We weren't aggressive," said Steve DeOssie, a Giants inside linebacker. "We let their offense set the tempo."
At halftime, the Vikings led, 12-10. Herschel Walker, almost an afterthought in the Vikings' offense until recent weeks, was bowling over defenders.
He gained 78 yards on 15 carries, and he lost a 58-yard kickoff return because of a holding penalty. So at halftime, the Giants' locker room was not exactly celebrating.
"We didn't tackle anybody and we didn't cover anybody in the first half," said Leonard Marshall, a Giants defensive end. "At halftime, we said we had to do something. We did. We came back and played basic defense."
One reason the Giants were fired up may have been an impromptu speech by Taylor.
As halftime was ending, Taylor got up. "I'm going to start playing the way we're supposed to play," he said. "If anybody wants to come along, fine."
Everyone came along. And even though the Vikings stretched their lead to 15-10, the Giants would score on three of their last four possessions and pull out the game.
On the first play of the last quarter, Rich Gannon, the Vikings' quarterback, passed for Anthony Carter.
Jackson intercepted, putting the Giants on the Vikings' 32-yard line. Four plays later, Bahr kicked a 48-yard field goal.