Bill Belichick famously exhorted his defense late in Super Bowl XLVI with the words: "This is still a Cruz and Nicks game!"
Those words were just as accurate Wednesday night, although not for long.
Hakeem Nicks saw his first action of the preseason when he started against the Patriots in final preparations for the regular season, which begins on Wednesday. Nicks played with the majority of the starting offense, which included Eli Manning and Victor Cruz, marking the first time all three were on the field at the same time against an opponent since February.
The only problem was that they didn't look to be in February form.
Manning played four series and three were three-and-outs against the Patriots backups. He completed 4 of 8 passes for 29 yards and was sacked once in the Giants' 6-3 win.
"Offensively it wasn't our best performance," Manning said. "We didn't make any major mistakes, but we didn't move the ball very well."
Nicks broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in an OTA this spring and began training camp on PUP. He had that designation removed on Aug. 13 and began practicing on Aug. 20. He has looked sharp in practices, but had expressed a desire to see some action in a preseason game.
Manning completed his first pass to Nicks to start the second possession. It was a short in-route with the Patriots defense giving Nicks a large cushion. Manning targeted Nicks on one other pass later in the possession, but it was incomplete.
"It felt real good to be out there for the first time this preseason," Nicks said. "Went out there, got my feet wet, got a couple reps. It was exactly what I needed to know that I'll be ready for next week."
Nicks looked his sharpest on a play that never materialized. He beat Patriots corner Ras-I Dowling off the line and was open, but Mitch Petrus allowed Jermaine Cunningham to slice into the backfield and sack Manning for a loss of 15 yards before he could find Nicks. "It was great to have Hakeem back out there, get him a catch, get him back in the flow of things, so we all knew he'd be ready next week for Dallas," Manning said.
While Nicks seemed to be fine, it was Manning who seemed out of sync with the rest of the offense (or more likely vice-versa) as his limited playing time wore on. He threw a floater down the middle for Victor Cruz, who was running his route along the numbers. He threw a high seam pass to Martellus Bennett that was incomplete. And on his final play of the preseason he was nearly picked off by Nate Ebner while throwing a pass intended for Domenik Hixon.
The most important aspect of the game for the offense was that none of the starters got injured . . . and that Nicks was able to see a few live defenses before the Dallas game, which is what he was hoping for. "It was pretty much what I expected," Nicks said. "No problem with the foot. It felt good, and I'll be ready to start the season."
Defensively, the Giants were without their starting ends but played most of their other first-teamers through the first quarter.
After gaining only 69 yards in the first half, the Giants opened the second half with a 64-yard drive that ended in a 34-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes to tie the score at 3. It stayed that way until Adewale Ojomo sacked Brian Hoyer from behind, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Marcus Thomas at the Patriots' 17. That set up Tynes' 32-yarder for the win.