There is indeed life after death, at least on the football field.
The New York Giants, given up for dead after a miserable loss in their final regular season game, upset the Los Angeles Rams, 16-13, in the NFC wild card game today before 67,037 in Anaheim Stadium.
This means New York (9-7 regular season, 1-0 playoffs) will play at San Francisco Saturday at 4 p.m. in one NFC semifinal; the Washington Redskins will be host to the NFC Central champion Chicago Bears at RFK Stadium Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the other.
The Giants are the most unlikely participants. They lost their previous two games to St. Louis and New Orleans, playing so poorly in the 10-3 loss to the Saints that several players disgustedly laughed off their prospects.
Today, those same players were trying to explain perhaps the most stunning eight-day make-over of the NFL season. New York entered the playoffs through the servants' entrance when St. Louis and Dallas lost their final games; now, the Giants are upper crust.
"People were judging our whole season on our last two games," said quarterback Phil Simms, who led a patient, pop-gun passing attack to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. "We deserved to be in (the playoffs) because of how we played a 16-game schedule. I think we proved today why we were in it."
The Giants' best weapon was possession. They didn't have much to show for most of their drives -- except that they kept Eric Dickerson on the bench.
While the Giants' offense chewed up 34 minutes, Dickerson walked the sideline. The Rams ran only 43 plays. Dickerson was held to 37 yards in the first half, but ended up with 107 yards on 23 carries for an average of 4.65 yards per attempt, one full yard under his season average.
"I can be contained," said Dickerson, who this season ran for an NFL record 2,105 yards. "I'm not Superman. I don't think you all understand that. I am very human."
But Dickerson almost led the Rams to what might have been the winning touchdown.
As Giants defensive end Curtis McGriff said, "Stopping Dickerson is like holding water in your hands. You can only hold it so long before it slips through your fingers and comes out, right?"
To set the scene, the Giants moved ahead, 16-10, on Ali Haji-Sheikh's third field goal of the game, a 36-yarder, at the end of the third quarter. The Rams (10-6, 0-1) started from their 18 after the kickoff, and moved to the New York seven in nine plays, five rushes by Dickerson.
He gained 46 yards on those runs, including a 24-yarder down the right sideline in which he jumped over defensive lineman Jerome Sally and pulled away from cornerback Kenny Daniel before he was dragged down by his feet by free safety Terry Kinard at the New York 34.
From the seven, Dickerson gained three on a pitch. On second and goal at the four, reserve running back Dwayne Crutchfield joined Dickerson in the backfield.
The expected play -- another pitch to Dickerson -- did not happen. Quarterback Jeff Kemp handed off to Crutchfield, who was grabbed by defensive end Leonard Marshall for a three-yard loss.
"I was expecting the play," Marshall said. "They never run outside with Crutchfield."
Marshall sliced between left tackle Irv Pankey and left guard Kent Hill and wrapped his arms around Crutchfield. On the next play, Kemp threw a swing pass to Henry Ellard, who gained two yards to the five.
On fourth down, Mike Lansford kicked a 22-yard field goal to bring the Rams within three points with 7:02 remaining in the game. They never again got close to the end zone.
"You could feel the momentum swinging from one side to the other as they drove down the field," said Giants linebacker Harry Carson. "(The second-down play) was a very big play. I don't know why they didn't go to Dickerson. You'll have to ask John Robinson on that."
"We had run Dickerson on four straight plays, so we went with a different back. It's a play we used all year long," Robinson said.
Dickerson was asked about the call, too. "That's their decision," he said of the coaches. "I won't think about it at all."
The Rams got another possession with less than three minutes remaining, but their final effort ended at their 30. Kemp, back to pass on fourth down, was hit by linebacker Lawrence Taylor and defensive end George Martin, and fumbled as he tried to throw the ball.
New York's victory was a complete turnaround from the last meeting between these teams, back in September. The Giants lost that one, 33-12, as they gave up three safeties in one quarter and gained only eight yards in 13 rushes.
"We were embarrassed out here before," Carson said. "We wanted to show the country we may not be the greatest team, but we're much better than we showed before."
In the first half, the Giants took a 10-0 lead on Haji-Sheikh's 37-yard field goal on their first possession and Rob Carpenter's one-yard dive after a fumble by Dickerson.
"We got off to a terribly slow start," said Robinson. "Why, I don't know. We seemed fidgety to me."
The Giants, stressing defense against the run, forced Dickerson's fumble at the Rams' 23. The Giants, hardly an offensive powerhouse, needed nine plays to reach the end zone, on Carpenter's run, with 1:10 left to play in the first quarter.
Simms, who was 22 of 31 for 179 yards, completed two of four passes, including the Giants' longest gain of the drive, eight yards to Zeke Mowatt to the 15-yard line.
Lansford's 38-yard field goal with one minute left in the half brought the Rams within a touchdown.
In the third quarter, the Giants controlled the ball for 10 minutes 55 seconds, but were outscored, 7-6. Haji-Sheikh kicked two more field goals -- 39 and 36 yards -- but the Rams finally came to life.
The Rams began their only touchdown drive at their 22 after the first of the two field goals. Dickerson took a pitch left for four yards, then went right for no gain.
On third down, Kemp threw deep to Drew Hill. The pass was underthrown, but Kinard was called for pass interference as he and Hill came back for the ball. Kinard protested the call then and later in the locker room, but it stood as a 45-yard gain to the New York 29.
After Dickerson gained two, Kemp threw to James McDonald for 11 to the 16. Kemp's two-yard scramble served as a prelude to the touchdown -- Dickerson's 14-yard sweep around left end, untouched, into the end zone. He blew through a hole created by McDonald's block on linebacker Gary Reasons.
With 6:25 to play in the third quarter, the Rams trailed, 13-10.
But the Giants embarked on another piecemeal drive, moving from their 20 to the Rams' 14 before Simms was sacked by linebacker Jim Collins for a five-yard loss. That set up Haji-Sheikh's 36-yard field goal, giving the Giants a 16-10 lead.
"Last time we played, they blitzed us and we couldn't control them," Carpenter said. "This time, the game plan was to throw short, to be controlled. We succeeded at that."