Tiki Barber Says 2002 Giants Would’ve Beat The Super Bowl Champions

Tiki Barber's bold claim

New York Giants running back Tiki Barber

Tiki Barber claimed the 2002 Giants would’ve beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Barstool’s Going Deep podcast (fka Surf and Turf) with Steven Cheah and Willie Colon back in September 2019. Let’s see how Tiki’s bold claim might’ve played out.

2002 Giants

Record: 10-6-0, 2nd in NFC East
Coach: Jim Fassel (10-6-0)
Points For: 320 (20.0/g) 22nd of 32
Points Against: 279 (17.4/g) 3rd of 32
Expected W-L: 9.3-6.7
PFR’s Simple Rating System: .83 (16th of 32)
Strength Of Schedule: -1.74

Our defense was a top 5 unit. Strahan led the team in sacks with 11, one year removed from setting the single season record* and was named to the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, the other bookend Kenny Holmes contributed 8 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Michael Barrow led the squad in total tackles with 110.

Typically with a top-5 group, you’d see a lot of forced turnovers, but not with this crew. Stray topped the team with 3 forced fumbles and there was a 3-way tie for the team lead in picks between Jason Sehorn, Shaun Williams, and William Peterson, each with 2.

What made this lineup elite was their refusal to let the other team score. Much like many of Belichick’s Bend But Don’t Break defenses, Johnnie Lynn’s D gave up yards, but not points… at least, not touchdowns. And that’s really the name of the game. Big Blue’s D allowed the 3rd fewest points in the league and the fourth fewest points per drive.

On offense, Kerry Collins tossed for more than 4,000 yards but only 19 touchdowns. The air attack produced the 6th most yards in the NFL, but it didn’t translate into points until the last quarter of the season. Big Blue went 3-4 over the first 7 and the offense struggled, scoring less than 14 points in 5 of those contests. That led Fassel to strip play-calling duties from Sean Payton, who’d been affected by the passing of his mother.

Over the final 9, they clicked, scoring 24 or more points six times. Possibly one of the most befuddling offenses in franchise history.

Rookie Jeremy Shockey was a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler, averaging almost 5 grabs a game and more than 12 yards per reception over 14 starts. Amani Toomer led the team in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns, putting up career highs in every category.

Other than Toomer, the WR pod was banged up all year. Ike Hilliard missed 9 games, Ron Dixon only played in 10. Rookie Tim Carter only played 5. I remember the Giants actually signing former Lions legend Herman Moore for the Texans game. Rookie Daryl Jones was the 2nd wideout. This allowed defenses to double up on (or bracket) Toomer and Shockey, leaving mostly rinky dink dump-offs to Tiki.

Tiki came close to putting up 2,000 total yards from scrimmage (<1,400 rushing, <600 receiving), adding 11 touchdowns. The Thunder of Thunder & Lightning – Ron Dayne – had his second worst year in a Giant uni.

This wildly inconsistent roster CRUSHED Peyton Manning’s Colts in Indy…

…went toe-to-toe with the AFC South Champion Titans (a game we led 29-21 with 2:21 remaining)…

…and gutted out a gritty victory against the NFC East Champion Eagles with the playoffs on the line.

But, they also lost to the lowly Cardinals (thanks to 3 turnovers + 10 penalties) and Texans.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia

2002 49ers

Record: 10-6-0, 1st in NFC West
Coach: Steve Mariucci (10-6-0)
Points For: 367 (22.9/g) 13th of 32
Points Against: 351 (21.9/g) 18th of 32
Expected W-L: 8.4-7.6
PFR’s Simple Rating System: .64 (17th of 32)
Strength Of Schedule: -0.37

The Niners had a middle of the road defense that was considerably better against the run than they were versus the pass. With that said, safety Tony Parrish had 7 picks while defensive end Andre Smith had 12.5 sacks. LBs Derek Smith and Pro Bowler Julian Peterson led the team in tackles.

San Fran’s offense found success on the ground with Garrison Hearst resulting in a top 5 attack. The passing game, led by Pro Bowlers Jeff Garcia (21 TDs, 4 game-winning drives) and Terrell Owens (100 catches, 1300 yards, 14 TDs in 14 games), was slightly above average. That unit was tops in the NFL in third down conversions.

An overtime loss to the Chargers along with losses to the Eagles and Packers saddled San Fran with the 4 seed.

new york giants kicker matt bryant and NYG punter matt allen

2002 NFC Wild Card: Giants (#5) at 49ers (#4)

The Giants had all the momentum heading into this matchup. Winners of four straight, the G-Men averaged 29.5 points over the last quarter of the season. On the other hand, the Niners had lost 2 of their last three, their lone victory coming by a FG over those pesky 5-9 Cards.

These teams squared off in the Thursday night opener, when the Niners came away with a 16-13 win at Giants Stadium despite Big Blue owning time of possession and converting 9 of 16 third downs!

The Giants evened up the score at 13-13 with under 2 to play in regulation, but lost on a last-second field goal. Collins threw for more than 340 yards but also tossed 3 INTs and was sacked 3 times. Tiki and Dayne averaged less than 2 yards per carry. New York was called for 10 penalties on the evening.

In the Wild Card game, the Giants had their opening 9-play drive cut short by an interception. Very next play, Garcia to Owens for a 76-yard score.

During an absurd stretch from the first quarter into the third, the Giants scored on 6 of 7 drives, 5 of which were touchdowns and the 6th should’ve resulted in 6. With the Giants up 35-14, on a goal-to-go, Shockey dropped an EASY touchdown in the end zone. Surely, that wouldn’t come back to haunt us, right? Aw shucks. NBD, right?

At that point, the score was 38-14 with less than 5 to play in the third. San Fran had to score 24 points in 20 minutes. EVERYONE affiliated with Los Gigantes was popping champagne, myself included (mostly to overcome a hellacious hangover from night before).

That’s when the wheels slowly fell the fuck off. Matt Allen couldn’t punt a ball to save his life. Numerous unnecessary roughness penalties called against NYG. The offense simply ceased to exist. Fassel pulled Tiki to save him for the next round.

It took the Niners 19 minutes to score on all 4 of their last 4 drives — 3 TDs and a field goal — to secure a 1-point lead with a little over a minute left. Oopsy-daisy!

All hope wasn’t lost, though. Delvin Joyce gave us phenomenal field position with a return to the Giants 48. A couple connections to Ron Dixon put Big Blue at San Fran’s 28. A short completion to Toomer got us to the 23.

On third and 5, Matt Bryant lines up for the 40-yard kick. Matt Allen holds. Newly signed 41-year-old, unretired 20-year-vet Trey Junkin was the snapper. Junkin fucks up the snap, Allen takes off right, it’s the scramble drill. Allen tries to chuck it long, offensive guard Rich Seubert tries to come back to catch it and is tackled before getting to the ball. Seubert’s called for illegal man downfield. Game over.

New York Giants offensive lineman and eligible receiver Rich Seubert

Problem is Seubert had declared himself as an eligible receiver before the play. Penalty should’ve been defensive pass interference. Ball would’ve been placed deep in 49er territory. Giants should’ve been allowed to kick again and Bryant, despite not being the Mr. Automatic he was with Atlanta later in his career (mostly due to CRAPPY SNAPPERS), probably would’ve sent us to Tampa Bay.

The league even offered up an official ‘My B’ a couple days later. No prob! We’ll just replay that down, right?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks

2002 Bucs

Record: 12-4-0, 1st in NFC South
Coach: Jon Gruden (12-4-0)
Points For: 346 (21.6/g) 18th of 32
Points Against: 196 (12.3/g) 1st of 32
Expected W-L: 12.7-3.3
PFR’s Simple Rating System: 8.80 (2nd of 32)
Strength Of Schedule: -0.57

Tampa had the best defense in the league, allowing a little over 12 points per game. No one was better against the pass and only a select few put up better numbers against the run.

LB Derrick Brooks was a first-team All-Pro, Pro Bowler, and was the AP Defensive Player of the Year. He had 5 picks, returning 3 for scores, 11 passes defended, 118 combined tackles, and returned a fumble for a touch. Dude scored more points than some WRs! Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp were also first-team All-Pro Pro Bowlers, Rice with 15.5 sacks, Sapp with 7.5. CB Brian Kelly had 8 INTs and 21 passes defended.

The Bucs offense was below average at best. They couldn’t run the ball and their passing game was mediocre. RB Michael Pittman and Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott combined for more than 1,200 yards. Keyshawn Johnson had 1k yards receiving and averaged more than 14 yards a grab. Brad Johnson barely crossed 3k yards, but threw 22 TDs against only 6 picks en route to a Pro Bowl.

Of their 4 losses, 2 came against the underrated Saints (9-7), 1 against the NFC East champion Eagles, and the other against the AFC North champion Steelers. As a result, TB got the NFC’s 2 seed.

NFC Playoff seeds
1 Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)
2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (South winner)
3 Green Bay Packers (North winner)
4 San Francisco 49ers (West winner)
5 New York Giants (wild card)
6 Atlanta Falcons (wild card)


Giants at 49ers – Junkin nails the snap or the refs get the call right and all is right in the universe

Falcons at Packers – Atlanta shocks Green Bay at Lambeau in a decisive win fueled by Vick


Falcons at Eagles – despite Vick’s best efforts, McNabb and Co. take down Atlanta 20-6

Giants at Bucs

IRL the Bucs crushed the Niners 31-6, prompting many to assume that even if the Giants beat SF in the Wild Card, they wouldn’t have stood a chance vs. Tampa in the divisional round.

According to Tiki on Barstool’s Going Deep podcast, he felt the Giants matched up well with the Bucs, specifically in the run game. If Tampa’s D had a “weakness”, that would’ve been it; 5 of the 7 highest rushing totals against the Bucs came in December and January.

Through the first 7 games, the 3-4 Giants averaged less than 90 yards per game on the ground. Over the last 9, the Giants went 7-2 while racking up 139 rushing yards per contest.

The numbers would indicate the Giants stood a chance of substantial gains handing to Tiki. Of course, Tiki has one helluva grandiose opinion of himself, so it’s totally conceivable that his ego skewed how probable a Giants win would be.

Taking a look at the head-to-head series leading up to ’02,  no one would ever lose money on the under. When these two met, it was always a low-scoring affair:

Nov 30, 1997 Giants 8 Buccaneers 20

Oct 4, 1998 Giants 3 @ Buccaneers 20

Sep 12, 1999 Giants 17 @ Buccaneers 13

I’d imagine we’d see the same here. This Giants offense was unlike those from ’97-’99. Tiki had emerged as a legitimate starting RB and Amani Toomer had come into his own as the team’s #1 WR. We had a premier tight end in Shockey and Collins provided somewhat of an upgrade at QB over Kanell and Graham.

With Trey Junkin (hopefully) out of the picture, the Giants try out every last long snapper on Earth to find their guy. I’m thinking Field Goal Fest that’s identical to the ’90 NFC Championship…

Giants 15, Bucs 12

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Giants (#5) at Eagles (#1)

IRL the Bucs won easily against the Eagles in Philly, 27-10, thanks to 3 turnovers.

In our dreamy fantasy world, the Giants travel to Philly and probably come out victorious. We stuck it to them in the regular season finale and I don’t see that being any different this go ’round.

SUPER BOWL: Giants vs. Raiders

IRL, the Bucs absolutely smoked Oakland.

Gruden knew the Raiders offense inside and out with Bucs defenders easily calling out plays and audibles all game long. Can’t same the say for Jim Fassel and Johnnie Lynn. I’d expect a much closer game.

Oakland Raiders running back Charlie Garner

2002 Raiders

Record: 11-5-0, 1st in AFC West

Coach: Bill Callahan (11-5-0)

Points For: 450 (28.1/g) 2nd of 32

Points Against: 304 (19.0/g) 6th of 32

Expected W-L: 11.5-4.5

SRS: 10.64 (1st of 32), SOS: 1.51

The Raiders destroyed the Jets and Titans in the playoffs. They had the second best scoring offense on the wings of a top-notch passing attack led by Rich Gannon and the 6th best scoring defense that was stingy against the run, but vulnerable through the air.

Gannon was named AP MVP after throwing for almost 4,700 yards and 26 touchdowns. Jerry Rice led all receivers with more than 1,200 yards and 7 TDs while averaging more than 13 yards per touch as a Pro Bowler. Charlie Garner had 1,900+ yards from scrimmage on 273 touches, nearly hitting 1k in rushing and receiving.

Rod Woodson was a First-Team All-Pro with 16 passes defended and 8 picks, returning 2 for scores. Eric Barton and Bill Romanowski were 1-2 in combined tackles and Roderick Coleman topped the team in sacks with 11 and tackles for loss with 13.

The Giants and Raiders had only squared off twice with Gruden and Fassel as head coaches:

Sep 13, 1998  Raiders 20 vs Giants 17 – with Kanell calling signals, the Giants were 1 for 14 on third downs. That’s unfathomable.

Nov 25, 2001 Raiders 28 @ Giants 10 – Collins only completed half his passes, averaging 4.84 yards per attempt, yet Tiki averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Shockey was still at The U.

Given the Giants’ proven ability to pick up big chunks on Kerry’s arm, it’s possible the Giants stick around and compete. Raider opponents averaged around 90 rushing yards per game and we all know how the Giants fared when putting up that stat.

People forget the Raiders’ starting center Barret Robbins suffered a manic episode caused by bipolar disorder before the Super Bowl and was partying in Tijuana, Mexico, so backup Adam Treu had to fill in.

Raiders 24, Giants 20

You’d think after the debacle that was the 2000 Super Bowl against the Ravens, Fassel would’ve learned his lesson and better prepared his squad for the big game. Collins most likely wouldn’t put up another dud and we might be talking about the Jim Fassel Era continuing well beyond 2003.

That would’ve seriously fouled up the Giants timeline. I can’t see ownership moving away from Fassel after going to a second Super Bowl in 3 years. Hard to argue against trading Collins even if he does lose a second SB.

Does that mean the team doesn’t trade for Eli?

Do we still sign Kurt Warner?

Does Warner still have a second coming with the Cards?

Does Tiki Barber NOT retire after the 2006 season?

Does Jeremy Shockey remain a lifelong Giant?

Do we sign Plaxico Burress?

Would Amani Toomer and Michael Strahan get a Super Bowl ring?

My brain hurts thinking about the ramifications of the 2002 Giants making the Super Bowl.

TAKEAWAY: A promising playoff run was prematurely cut short by the perfect storm of bad decisions (by Fassel, by the refs, by the players). While it would’ve been the balls to go back to the Super Bowl, it would’ve derailed what unfolded afterward — namely Tom Coughlin + Eli Manning.


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