EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Maybe fairy tales do come true.
For Bill Parcells.
For David Meggett.
For the New England Patriots.
Improbably--almost impossibly--the Patriots rallied from a 22-0 halftime deficit to defeat the New York Giants, 23-22, on Saturday at Giants Stadium.
Though he would never admit it, Parcells wanted this game--his first against the team he coached to two Super Bowl championships--in the worst way. So did Meggett, the former Giant.
Meggett returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown--his first touchdown return since leaving the Giants two years ago--for the pivotal play of the game.
The Patriots still needed another touchdown after that score but its arrival seemed destined--especially since there was still 11:09 to play. It finally came on fourth and 7 from the 13 when tight end Ben Coates caught a pass from Drew Bledsoe (31 for 47, 301 yards) at the one-yard line and dragged Giant safety Tito Wooten and cornerback Conrad Hamilton across the goal line with 1:23 remaining.
After the Giants (6-10) failed to drive into field-goal position, the Patriots (11-5)--winners of eight of their past 10--had secured a first-round bye for the playoffs and not an insignificant measure of satisfaction.
"This is as about as happy as we've been around here in a long time," Parcells said.
Parcells' triumphant return coincided with what was widely perceived as Dan Reeves' last game as coach of the Giants. Reeves expects to be dismissed Monday.
"I took this job under certain circumstances and it just hasn't worked out the way that we all wanted it to," said Reeves, who led the Giants to the playoffs in 1993 but no appearances there since.
The Patriots will move on to the playoffs in two weeks against an opponent that will be determined by next week's wild-card games. If the Patriots had not beaten the Giants, they faced the possibility of a wild-card game themselves.
After Meggett--a 5-foot-7 veteran who played six seasons with the Giants, including the 1991 Super Bowl championship team--made his touchdown run, he pounded his chest, kissed the artificial turf near the end zone and declared that Giants Stadium was still, "my house."
It belongs to Parcells too.
"I grew up just up the street," said Parcells, who returned to Giants Stadium four other times to face the Jets--but never the Giants. "This isn't a home away from home. This will always be my home. Right now, I'm just not living here.
"I was a little emotional. It's just very gratifying and not because it's the Giants. . . . I don't mean to intimate that. I just mean it's gratifying to see these kids rally back and do what they did."
* PLAYOFF PICTURE: C3