Hakeem Nicks has had more good games than bad in his career with the Giants. He's had injuries he played through and some that have kept him on the sideline. He's run wrong routes and made poor cuts, but he's also caught more passes from Eli Manning than any other receiver during his four-plus seasons in the NFL.
One thing that has never been an issue for Nicks, though, is dropping the ball with those big supple hands the Giants fell in love with when they selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft. So when he struggled to bring in some passes he normally would have "gobbled up," to borrow a phrase from Tom Coughlin, dropping three of the 10 passes thrown in his direction Monday night and catching only two for 28 yards, it stood out.
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"As a receiver, that happens," he said of his lackluster performance against the Vikings. "You don't want it to happen, but you ain't perfect. You want to catch every one. I know I do. But it don't happen like that sometimes."
Nicks did not seem concerned about it, or his overall numbers this season, which are below expectations. "I don't feel like my game is too much different from what it's been in the past," he said.
Coughlin, though, does not seem to share the ability to shrug it off as well as Nicks. For what might be the first time in his Giants career, Nicks was called out publicly by the coach on Wednesday. Coughlin even questioned Nicks' reliability.
"He's got to improve, he's got to get better, he's got to get to the point where the reliability factor is there as strongly as it always has been," Coughlin said. "Has it been there up to this point? No. But we're saying: Let's work, let's get back to work and get this done. We count on this guy."
Nicks has caught 27 passes for 470 yards. Those numbers are both second on the team behind Victor Cruz. His 17.4 yards per reception is the highest on the team.
"I don't see anything different," Manning said. "He's made a lot of big plays for us and hopefully he'll continue to do that."
But Nicks also has no touchdowns (Cruz and Rueben Randle each have four). And one third of his receptions (nine) and over a quarter of his receiving yards (142) came in one game, an outburst against the Eagles in Week 5. There have been three games in which he's had three or fewer catches, including none against the Panthers.
In that game in Carolina, Nicks was targeted just once. That wasn't the problem that led to his two receptions against the Vikings.
Nicks said that his numbers are being unfairly scrutinized because of off-the-field concerns such as recent trade speculation and attention on his pending free agency after this season. He said those issues are not in his head, but he never mentioned the word "contract" when talking about the matter, seeming to avoid it purposely.
"People are just putting more significance on it due to what kind of year it is for me," he said. "Because of what lies ahead for me and all the outside talk that's going on right now."
Coughlin said he doesn't think that Nicks is too concerned about those matters, but noted that if he was, he's going about it the wrong way.
"I think anybody that thinks that way has to understand that fundamentally you better take care of your business on the field," Coughlin said. "You'd better get your job done to the fullest of your ability."
Is Nicks? He says he is.
"I'm going to always be there," he said in response to Coughlin's reliability rap. "I'm going to always feel like I can [be reliable]. Every game doesn't always go your way. You just have to keep punching, keep fighting and eventually in the end you'll come out on top."