Fatal fumble-itis - Warner fumbles 6 times in opening loss

Monday, September 8, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With apologizes to Kerry Collins and company, winning for the New York Giants still starts with defense.

Kenny Holmes recovered one of Kurt Warner's six fumbles for a touchdown, and the Giants sacked the Rams' quarterback six times, intercepted him once and sent him to the hospital with a concussion in a 23-13 victory Sunday.

"This has always been about defense since I've been here and it always will be," defensive tackle Keith Hamilton said after opening his 12th season with the Giants.

"With all the juggernauts we have on offense, it's easy to say we can do this and that," added Hamilton, who missed most of last season with an Achilles' tendon injury. "If you don't have defense, you're not going too far."

Warner found out about the Giants the hard way. Besides being sacked, the two-time MVP was hit about a dozen times, including a brutal shot late in the first half by linebacker Mike Barrow, who had two sacks and a forced fumble.

"I'm not sure when it happened, but it might have been on the (Holmes) touchdown," Rams coach Mike Martz said of the concussion.

Warner complained of an upset stomach after the game and lay in the trainer's room. Dr. Bernard Garfinkel, the team physician, said he sustained a "mild to moderate" concussion. He was to be kept overnight at an undisclosed hospital.

The Giants defense limited the Rams to one fourth-quarter touchdown and two field goals, both set up by mistakes by the Giants' much publicized and hyped offense.

The defense also forced four Rams turnovers, and each started a drive that led to points.

The performance helped the Giants' defense wipe out the memories of blowing a 24-point lead in the wild-card game against San Francisco in January.

"We feel like we have something to prove," safety Shaun Williams said. "We wanted to come out and say if the games on the line and we have to win it at the end, the defense can go out there and get the job done."

Despite gaining 355 yards, holding the ball for more than 33 minutes and getting two turnovers inside the Giants 38, the Rams scored one touchdown.

"We had plenty of opportunities," offensive tackle Kyle Turley said. "Our defense played their butts off, but we can use some help on special teams and offense."

Matt Bryant kicked field goals of 24, 47 and 44 as the Giants' revamped special teams performed flawlessly. Brian Mitchell, another offseason acquisition, scored his first rushing touchdown since 2000.

Warner, who still completed 34 of 54 passes for 342 yards, made the Giants sweat a little in the fourth quarter. He threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt and drove the Rams into New York territory twice.

However, both drives faltered on fourth down, the last ending when Hamilton tipped a pass.

Halfback Tiki Barber, who dislocated a finger in the first quarter, led the Giants' offense with 146 yards rushing on 24 carries.

Collins finished 14-of-26 for 202 yards, including a 77-yard pass play to Amani Toomer that set up Bryant's first field goal for a 10-3 second-quarter lead.

The Giants' biggest plays of the day were earlier.

The first came when New York held St. Louis to a field goal after Ike Hilliard lost a fumble at his 23.

On the Giants' next series, new punter Jeff Feagles buried the Rams at their 6-yard line with a 53-yard punt.

On third-and-10, first-round draft pick William Joseph came up the middle and sacked Warner, causing him to go down hard. The ball popped loose and Holmes fell on it for a touchdown.

New York never trailed after that, stopping Warner and limiting Marshall Faulk to nine carries for 28 yards and seven catches for 27 more.

Jeff Wilkins gave the Rams a 3-0 lead with a 39-yard field goal after Aeneas Williams recovered Hilliard's fumble.

New York led 10-6 at the half and it scored on three straight third-quarter drives, with Bryant sandwiching field goals around Mitchell's 1-yard run. Safety Omar Stoutmire set up Bryant's 44-yard field goal with an interception.

NOTESToomer has caught passes in 68 straight regular-season games. He needs 28 yards to pass Frank Gifford as the team's all-time leading receiver in terms of yards (5,434). ... Giants left tackle Luke Petitgout left the game in the second quarter with back spasms. Rookie Jeff Roehl finished. ...Rams S Jason Sehorn (broken foot) was inactive.

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