Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi loves to tell the story of how he decided that beleaguered quarterback Kurt Warner was worth signing as a free agent in June. Of all things, Accorsi made up his mind after watching tape of Warner's six-fumble performance in the Rams' season-opening loss to New York in 2003. Warner took some vicious hits, and the one thing that impressed the G.M. the most was this: The guy never gives up.
Resiliency has defined Warner throughout his career--he went from grocery clerk to two-time league MVP and Super Bowl champion--and now he's got people shaking their heads again. With a 26--10 upset of the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday, the Warner-led Giants are 4--1 and off to their best start since 1993. Warner's passing numbers against the Cowboys were typically modest (18 of 33 for 217 yards and a touchdown), but they don't tell the story of what he's doing for New York's offense.
The knock on Warner as his career fizzled in St. Louis was that he panicked too often in the pocket and couldn't overcome injuries to the thumb on his passing hand. But on Sunday he remained cool under constant pressure and made accurate throws in clutch situations. Most important, for the fourth time in five games he didn't throw an interception. Warner has been picked off once in 147 attempts this season. "He really has a great presence," says Giants center Shaun O'Hara. "You can see how playing in so many big games throughout his career has given him a lot of confidence. He knows how to get things done, and that makes us all feel confident in what we can do."
The Giants are as balanced as any offense in the NFL. Running back Tiki Barber is off to the best start of his eight-year career. Against Dallas he had 198 total yards (122 rushing, 76 receiving) and iced the game with a 55-yard catch-and-run, setting up his own three-yard touchdown dash. A line that was supposed to be shaky has been adequate in pass protection while opening holes for a rushing attack that ranks fourth in the league.
But New York's offense runs through Warner, who was signed to give the Giants time to develop rookie first-round draft pick Eli Manning. After six seasons in the Rams' wide-open system, Warner says the toughest adjustment he has had to make in New York is learning how to be a more conservative quarterback. The Giants have asked him to toss high-percentage passes and limit his downfield throws. Thus he's averaging 225 passing yards a game, which would've been about two quarters' worth of work on a good day in St. Louis. "I'm being aggressive with restraint," he says. "In St. Louis they didn't care if I made a mistake, because they believed I would make more plays than errors. They want me to do my thing here but without the mistakes. I still want to influence the game's outcome with my arm, but now I'm doing it in more subtle ways."
Warner's strong performance has allowed New York to stick to its plan to bring Manning along slowly. In fact, Warner's play has, at least temporarily, silenced talk of when the rookie might take over. "I don't even want to talk about that," Accorsi says.
Warner, who signed a two-year deal that is voidable after this season, is content in knowing he's making the most of this opportunity. "The only thing I care about is our record," he says. "I came here to win games and maybe another championship, and the best thing for me is seeing that we've only lost one game."
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Warner has been efficient under center, while Barber (inset) is averaging 6.0 yards a carry.