Offbeat Martellus Bennett right at home in New York

Martellus Bennett rallies the fans before kickoff of

Martellus Bennett rallies the fans before kickoff of a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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For years, he felt like an outsider.

Martellus Bennett grew up playing football in Texas, but he never felt comfortable with the sports-obsessed culture there. Even as a pro.

More than once during the previous four seasons, Bennett walked through the Dallas Cowboys' locker room as his teammates chattered about their tee times and wondered to himself: What am I doing here?

"I felt like that one piece of a puzzle that is stuck in the wrong box and never really fits in," the tight end said. "I loved Texas and I grew up in Texas, but my mind-set was different. When I got here, I felt like I finally got put in with the right puzzle."

"Here'' is with the Giants, who signed Bennett to a one-year, $2.5-million contract during the offseason. Thirteen games into the season, he has found the change in venue inspiring both on and off the field.

Bennett heads into Sunday's game against the Falcons with 49 catches for 569 yards and five touchdowns, all career highs. He is coming off two strong games in which he totaled 10 receptions for 114 yards and two TDs.

The 6-6 Bennett played basketball as well as football at Texas A&M, and the Giants have found ways to take advantage of his size, speed and athleticism.

"I think with Martellus, you have a tight end who can run and is getting better at utilizing his speed so that we've been able to tap into him a little bit," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "Particularly with the way people are playing us. Some teams have given us the chance to throw him the ball. It comes down to when those opportunities present themselves, is he going to win? I think he has won a fair amount of those, particularly over the last few weeks, which is encouraging."

Bennett, a second-round draft choice in 2008, was considered a disappointment with the Cowboys. The team used him as a backup to Jason Witten, and in four years, he scored four touchdowns, all in his rookie year, and caught only 85 passes.

By the end of his run there, Bennett knew he had to get out. At one point, after a loss to the Giants in Week 17, he found Giants quarterback Eli Manning on the field and mentioned to him that he was going to be a free agent and would love to play with him.

"Sometimes in life, you just have to bet on yourself," Bennett said. "I didn't think Dallas could believe in what I thought I could do. I felt I hadn't had a chance to show people what I could do, and New York felt like the right place."

Bennett now has a special connection with Manning, though the quarterback had nothing to do with his biggest catch this year.

Bennett was thrust into the spotlight after the Giants' win over the Packers three weeks ago when a middle-aged fan toward whom he had thrown his gloves fell out of the stands. Bennett caught the fan, managing to break his fall.

"It was weird as hell," Bennett said. "But weird things happen to me all the time."

New York has always been a place that has celebrated the weird and offbeat. One reason it felt like the right place for Bennett is that his wife, Siggi, had graduated from Sarah Lawrence in Westchester County and thought the New York area would be a place in which both would feel more comfortable than they had in Dallas.

Both are artists. Martellus paints, draws, designs clothing and experiments with photography and video. Siggi is a makeup artist who now studies at the Makeup Designory in Soho. Martellus' biggest project is developing a cartoon called "The Uglies" that he plans to release this summer through YouTube.

"Most guys, they go golf on their off days," he said. "I just like to make pretty stuff."

Bennett said he isn't made to feel like an outsider here, unlike Dallas.

"All the guys are interested in all the stuff I'm doing," he said. "I'm getting a lot of encouragement from upstairs, too. They just tell me to continue to be myself and to continue to play ball.

"I couldn't be happier."

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