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Giants Clinch Playoff Bye With 24-21 Win : NFC: Hostetler makes first start this season in place of Simms and beats Cardinals for third consecutive time.

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Jeff Hostetler has not played much in his seven seasons in the NFL, but the New York Giants’ backup quarterback has made a career out of beating the Phoenix Cardinals.

In his first start this season on Sunday, Hostetler passed for 190 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a four-yard run in the Giants’ 24-21 victory over the Cardinals.

The victory gave the NFC East champion Giants (12-3) a first-round bye in the playoffs.

“We got what we wanted. I’ll take 12 wins in this league any time,” Giant Coach Bill Parcells said. “Hostetler did a good job. He played error-free and made good decisions on the field.

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“We got a good lead, but then we gave the Cardinals some momentum and allowed them to come back on us. It looked like they were going to win it at one point.”

Hostetler, who completed 13 of 23 passes and rushed nine times for 31 yards, has beaten Phoenix three times in relief of Phil Simms--including 20-13 last season at Phoenix and 20-19 on Oct. 21 at East Rutherford, N.J.

Simms is sidelined with a severely sprained right foot, sustained in a loss to Buffalo on Dec. 15.

“I just told myself to relax and play my game,” said Hostetler, who had only 14 quarters of NFL experience before Sunday. “I was rusty a little bit, but I got more confidence as the game went on.

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“The guys responded well to me and I think they have confidence in me.”

It was the Cardinals’ fifth consecutive loss to the Giants and eliminated Phoenix (5-10) from wild-card playoff contention despite a career-high passing day by Timm Rosenbach.

Rosenbach completed 23 of 41 passes for 381 yards and brought Phoenix within 24-21 on his third touchdown pass, a three-yarder to rookie Ricky Proehl with 2:09 left.

Proehl recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Cardinal 43. Rosenbach drove his team to the New York 40 but they got no closer.

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A holding penalty and Lawrence Taylor’s sack for an eight-yard loss brought the ball back to the Giants’ 42, and New York took over after a fourth-down incompletion with 52 seconds to play.

“The Giants are the class of the East,” Cardinal Coach Joe Bugel said. “We wanted to battle them and see what would happen.

“We laid it all on the field today and came up a little short with a couple of critical errors. We have to find a way to win games like this one of these days.”

Hostetler put New York ahead17-7 when he connected with Mark Ingram on a 44-yard touchdown pass play with 7:31 left in the third quarter.

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The Cardinals closed to within 17-14 just 22 seconds later when Ernie Jones turned a swing pass from Rosenbach into a 68-yard touchdown play.

It was the longest completion of Rosenbach’s two-year NFL career and the longest play from scrimmage allowed by the Giants this season.

Phoenix appeared ready to take the lead, but reserve running back Terrence Flagler dropped a third-down pass at the New York five and Al Del Greco was wide left on a 30-yard field-goal attempt with 1:50 left in the third quarter.

Everson Walls returned his 50th career interception seven yards to the New York 37 to set up Hostetler’s four-yard scoring run on a broken play for a 24-14 lead with 8:58 remaining.

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Dave Duerson’s end zone interception with 4:34 left on a first-and-goal play from the New York nine-yard line ended another Cardinal threat.

“Timm was trying to throw the ball away, but he didn’t get it high enough,” Bugel said. “I told him the next time, give the fans in the stands a souvenir. He’s young and still learning.”

The Giants built a 10-0 lead on Matt Bahr’s 27-yard field goal with 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter and Rodney Hampton’s two-yard touchdown with 3:15 left in the first half that capped a 78-yard drive.

Phoenix cut its halftime deficit to 10-7 on an 11-yard scoring pass from Rosenbach to Flagler with 45 seconds left.

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Bahr was short on a 48-yard field-goal attempt on the half’s final play. Del Greco was short on a 47-yard try early in the second quarter.

Johnny Johnson gained 50 yards in 15 carries for the Cardinals.


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