Bill Parcells knows a championship defense and a championship quarterback when he sees them.
He saw them in 1986, when his New York Giants won the Super Bowl. He thinks he saw them again Sunday, when the Giants routed the Chicago Bears 31-3 in the NFC playoffs.Next week, he finds out for sure as the Giants go to San Francisco and try to stop the 49ers' "threepeat."
The NFC championship game will be yet another big test for that traditionally strong defense, which was magnificent in holding Chicago's powerful running game to 27 yards, 125 below its average. Parcells credited his assistants as much as the players, who had no trouble adapting to a 4-3 alignment.
"Bill Belichick once again pulled a little magic out of his hat," Parcells said of his defensive coordinator. "Against Detroit, he put in the right defense for a special kind of offense (run-and-shoot). And for this kind of offense, where a team will try to pound it at you, he put in the right defense once again."
That defense, which staged two goal-line stands and otherwise was dominant, basically featured an 8-man front: four linemen, three linebackers and the strong safety.
"We talked as a staff. We were ready to use this against any opposition," Belichick said. "But we felt against the Bears' running game it would work best."
It worked so well that Neal Anderson, the NFC's No. 2 rusher, managed a mere 19 yards. Brad Muster and Anderson couldn't get a touchdown after the Bears got inside the Giants' 5.
"That was a killer," said Muster, who lost a yard when he ran into John Washington on fourth down from the 1 in the second quarter. "When you don't score from that close, all the momentum switches."
To make sure they kept the momentum, the Giants had Jeff Hostetler. In his first playoff game replacing the injured Phil Simms, Hostetler improved his record to 5-0 as starting quarterback. He threw for two scores and ran for another, and his scrambling added a dimension opponents have not had to deal with against New York.
"It's very helpful to feel the pressure of a game bigtime," the coach said. "Jeff did and he threw well and said, `Hey, I can do this.' It's something aguy needs.
"There are some veteran quarterbacks in our division who have still not gotten to that point."
Hostetler produced points with a pinpoint 21-yard pass to Stephen Baker and a 5-yarder to Howard Cross. He also ran in from the 3 for a TD and converted three fourth-down plays as Parcells opened up the attack of the NFC East kings.
"This is what I've always worked for," Hostetler said, "the opportunity to be out there. I felt like David and Goliath because of all the doubts. Constantly, that was all I heard."
The Bears were convinced.
"He's an excellent quarterback," defensive end Trace Armstrong said. "He's a great runner, but the thing I was most impressed with was that here was a backup who stepped in and played with the poise that he showed.
"I think he's capable of taking them to the Super Bowl."
Parcells isn't saying that, but he has to be feeling a lot more secure about the 7-year veteran who has played the backup role to perfection.
"We've needed Jeff to step up and, today, he did," Parcells said. "He passed this test."
The next test, of course, is San Francisco, where the Giants lost 7-3 this season. Again, they had the defense in that game, but Simms struggled when New York got into threatening position.
This time, the spotlight is on Hostetler.
"I'm not really into it a lot," Hostetler said of the attention he is getting. "This is more of a hassle than anything, but I'll take this over what might have been."