Hakeem Nicks in good company with no TD receptions this season
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Amani Toomer has a head full of memories from his 13 seasons with the Giants, including recollections about almost all of his 54 touchdown catches. But it's the potential 55th, the one that got away, that still sticks with him.
That would-be touchdown came on a third-quarter pass from Kurt Warner in a Week 8 game against the Vikings in 2004. It was, briefly, a 17-yard scoring play until it was called back because of a holding call against guard Jason Whittle. The Giants eventually scored a touchdown on the drive and won the game handily, 34-13.
So what makes that one non-play so vivid to Toomer nearly a decade later?
It's because it came during the only full season of his football-playing life in which he did not catch a touchdown pass. In fact, it was the greatest season a Giants wide receiver has ever had without reaching the end zone. He had 51 catches for 747 yards, both team records for production sans points by a wide receiver, and Toomer called it "by far" the most frustrating season of his career.
"My oh-fer on touchdowns really stood out," he said.
But because of that, Toomer is one of the few players who can recognize what Hakeem Nicks is going through this season. Nicks has gone more than a year since catching his last touchdown pass, which came Dec. 9, 2012, against the Saints. If he goes three more games without reaching the end zone and catches three more passes, he'll break Toomer's team record for most catches and receiving yards without a score and could even threaten the NFL record of 963 yards set by the Jets' Al Toon in 1991.
"It was one of those years that I was hoping to go to the Pro Bowl or something like that, and you need more stats to get there," Toon recalled of his scoring drought. "And the team, we're trying to put some points on the board, so as the leading receiver, you hope to score. It was a bit frustrating."
Nicks has caught 49 passes for 789 yards this season. Ravens running back Ray Rice is second in catches without a receiving touchdown in the NFL with 48, but he has the comfort of having run for four of them. The next closest wide receiver to Nicks without a touchdown is Jacksonville's Ace Sanders, who has 39 catches. Forty-nine NFL wide receivers have caught at least 40 passes this season. Of those 49, only Nicks has not scored on any of them.
Nicks insists he's not frustrated by it, but offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said last week that he is surprised that Nicks has not found the end zone this season. Gilbride delivered what he called "a litany" of reasons.
"Sometimes I think the opportunities haven't been there quite as much," he said. "When he's had the opportunity, we haven't always capitalized on it. And sometimes the ball has gone other places."
Nicks has had several chances in red-zone situations. Plus, against the Chargers last week, he thought he'd gotten off the schneid when he came down with a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half. It wasn't until he looked around and wondered why no one was celebrating the touchdown that he realized he was at the 6-yard line, not in the end zone.
Nicks probably won't reach the NFL record of 75 catches for a wide receiver without a touchdown, which was set by Raymond Berry of the Baltimore Colts in 1961. Nor will he reach the Giants' record for receptions without a touchdown catch set by running back Tiki Barber when he caught 72 passes in 2001. James Wilder, a running back for the 1984 Buccaneers, holds the NFL record with 85.
But Nicks already has more receiving yards this year than Toomer had in 2004. The record is his. All he has to do is not catch a touchdown pass in the next three games to finalize it.
"I'm sure he wants to get in the end zone. It's not a function of him trying to avoid it," Toon said. "But you can't control everything."
Toomer pointed out that he and Nicks are in very different circumstances. In 2004, the Giants were introducing veteran Warner to a new offense and also trying to groom a rookie quarterback named Eli Manning. Only 12 touchdown passes were thrown all season, and no wide receiver had more than one (tight end Jeremy Shockey had a team-high six).
Manning already has thrown 16 this season, including six to Rueben Randle and four to Victor Cruz, who himself has gone salsa-less since Sept. 29. Even Louis Murphy Jr., who has been targeted on all of five passes this season and has made two catches, has a touchdown for the Giants. He's one of 10 players in the NFL with only one or two catches this season but more touchdowns than Nicks.
Tom Coughlin said it's possible for a receiver to have what he considers a productive year even if it doesn't come with any touchdowns. He pointed to Nicks' performance against the Chargers.
"He had a pretty good game the other day without scoring a touchdown," Coughlin said of Nicks' five catches for 135 yards. "If the other day is an example, he played well even though he didn't get in the end zone."
"You might just be crucial on third downs," he said. "You just have to take advantage of every opportunity you get and try to contribute in the best way possible."
It's a contract year for Nicks, and it will be difficult to head into free agency free of touchdowns. But Nicks is as positive as ever, even as he prepares to face the Seahawks and the NFL's top-ranked passing defense.
"My confidence never leaves because I know what I'm capable of doing," he said. "It's man-to-man coverage. It's my type of game."
Those who have experienced season-long droughts have advice for Nicks as he tries to avoid replicating their goose eggs.
"You have to focus on doing the best you can. That's really all you can do," Toomer said. "You can't worry about touchdowns, you can't worry about how many catches you get, you can't worry about what people think about you."
And, both Toomer and Toon pointed out, it's not too late for Nicks. He still has three games left to break the ice.
"I always thought touchdowns come in bunches," Toomer said. "Sometimes you have no touchdowns one year and then I had eight the next year. There's no rhyme or reason, really. They just happen."
Unless, of course, they don't.