Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
Hakeem Nicks already has done more in the Giants' two playoff wins than many receivers do in an entire playoff run. But as impressive as Nicks' 13 catches for 280 yards and four touchdowns -- including that spectacular 37-yard reception on a Hail Mary with no time left in the first half against the Packers -- the Giants' third-year wideout says there's plenty more where that came from.
"You ain't seen nothing yet," Nicks said. "I think I'm just now peaking. I feel like I know what I'm capable of doing in big games."
That is always the mark of a truly great player: No matter what you do in the regular season, it's what you do when the stage gets bigger in the postseason that truly separates the good ones from the uniquely gifted ones. And no wide receiver left in the tournament is doing his job as well as Nicks.
Take it from one longtime NFL receivers coach: Nicks is playing at a level that very few players are capable of achieving.
"I can give you a bunch of guys I've personally had an opportunity to coach who are great players," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who spent many years in the NFL coaching wide receivers, including a stint with the Giants from 1988-90.
Coughlin said Nicks is right in there with the best of them. "When he gets his mitts on the ball . . . " Coughlin didn't end his sentence, but he didn't need to. It would have read, he catches it.
Coughlin stood on the sideline as Manning heaved the ball into the end zone and watched as Nicks came down with it to score the unlikely touchdown that gave the Giants a 20-10 halftime lead and swung the momentum squarely in their favor.
"When I saw those red gloves go up , I knew he had a good chance to catch that," Coughlin said.
How big was the play? As far as running back Brandon Jacobs was concerned, it was the turning point of the game.
"He made a difference and he gave us a big lead going into halftime and he kind of broke their backs," Jacobs said. "I saw [the Packers] walking off the field, had their heads down. I pretty much knew they were done.''
Jacobs was right. The Giants earned a 37-20 win over the defending Super Bowl champs to reach Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the 49ers.
Along the way, Nicks has emerged as one of the league's elite receivers. It's a place he always knew he belonged, even if it has taken this playoff run to convince others.
"I really don't care what others think," he said. "As long as my team believes in me and I believe in myself."
And does he believe he's one of the league's top receivers?
"Yes, I do," he said.
And when did he start believing it? "From the beginning,'' he said. "I always think of myself as the best. That's why I play the game. I play to be the best. I don't think you should play it for any other reason."
But there was a time earlier in the season when a handful of dropped passes raised questions about whether Nicks really deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald or New England's Wes Welker. Nicks had seven dropped passes for the season -- tied for 10th in the NFL -- and one of them might have cost the Giants a game.
Early in a 23-10 loss to the Redskins, a wide-open Nicks lost the ball in the sun and dropped a pass that would have resulted in a 54-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead; instead, the Giants fell behind 17-0, dropped to 7-7 and had their hopes of making the playoffs threatened.
Victor Cruz, who burst into stardom from his humble roots as a walk-on before the 2010 season, powered the passing game in the Giants' late-season run to the playoffs. But it's Nicks, the 29th overall pick in 2009, who has elevated the aerial attack to a new level in the postseason.
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice as a team player so that others could step up," Nicks said. "Cruz definitely had a great season for us. He's doing tremendous for us still, coming up in big-time situations. We're all in. Everybody wants to contribute."
And no one is contributing more than Nicks, who has turned into an essential piece of this burgeoning playoff run. Another big-time performance on a big-time stage in San Francisco on Sunday, and he will be heading to the biggest stage of all.