EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 22 -- Jeff Hostetler reached the zenith of his seven-year NFL career on Sunday and wanted nothing more than to enjoy the evening with his family. So he gathered up his wife, Vicky, and his two sons -- Jason, 5, and Justin, 3 -- and on the biggest night of his professional life Hostetler headed straight to . . . McDonald's.

"Oh, the kids wanted Happy Meals," Hostetler said today. "I didn't even get out of the locker room until 8 o'clock. I'm usually home by then."

Forgive Hostetler if his celebrating is a little weak. The New York Giants' 29-year-old backup quarterback has spent most of his career on the sideline, and he will return there Sunday as a backup when the Giants play host to the Washington Redskins.

But when Phil Simms sprained his left ankle in the first period of Sunday's game against Phoenix, Hostetler was freed. Giants Coach Bill Parcells said today Simms's injury was not serious and he expects him to start against the Redskins, but Hostetler won't forget his day against the Cardinals.

He recovered from a rough beginning to complete 11 of 21 passes for 180 yards. Although he had not taken an offensive snap in practice since just before the final preseason game, Hostetler directed the Giants on two scoring drives in the final 5:38, enabling them to pull out a 20-19 victory. Matt Bahr's 40-yard field goal as time expired accounted for the winning points as the Giants improved to 6-0 for the first time in team history.

"I've been waiting seven years for the opportunity to get in and just run things," Hostetler said. "I felt I could do it. It was just a matter of getting a chance and I got a chance. I'm pleased with the way I played. I feel good about how things went. It wasn't a perfect game, but I think it went very well."

Said Parcells: "He got the job done when it counted. He had a lot of pressure on him. Early on, I thought he was a little -- I don't want to say shaky, because he wasn't getting very good protection -- but he could have thrown the ball away a couple of times. But late in the game, he was pretty good."

With 5:38 remaining, the Giants took possession at their 24, trailing, 19-10. Hostetler led them into the end zone in 2:17, capping the drive with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Baker. Bahr's extra point made it 19-17.

After the defense stopped Phoenix, the Giants took over on their 29 with 58 seconds left and no timeouts. Hostetler completed passes of 26 yards to Mark Ingram and 18 to Lionel Manuel, the second pass putting the Giants on the Phoenix 22. After Hostetler grounded the ball to stop the clock and the frantic march, he had to calm down long enough to hold for Bahr's winning kick.

"I had to tell myself, 'You've gotten this far, don't blow it,' " Hostetler said.

When Simms suffered an ankle injury last season, Hostetler led the Giants to victories over Minnesota and Phoenix. When Simms returned, Hostetler was back on the sideline. Through it all, Hostetler spoke openly of his frustration, checked his anger toward Parcells and hoped for a chance to show the skills that enabled him to pass for 4,055 yards and 24 touchdowns in two seasons at the University of West Virginia.

"You have to keep plugging away and keep telling yourself something's going to happen," he said. "You've got to keep believing."

Hostetler's faith earned him a small reward in this season's fourth game, when he completed two passes and ran for a touchdown near the end of a victory over Dallas. But his primary function has been holding for kicks, until Sunday that is.

"There were two or three times I should have thrown the ball away," said Hostetler, who was sacked three times, fumbled once, and threw one interception. "That comes with not being in there a whole lot. A lot of quarterbacks can go in when things are going right. There's an added sense of relief and enjoyment out of being in an adverse situation and coming out of top."

And Simms, who didn't talk to reporters after the game, sought out Hostetler and told him nice job.

And Parcells, the source of so much of Hostetler's unhappiness, stood up in the postgame team meeting, looked at him and said in front of the entire squad, "You are an NFL quarterback."