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Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks and the play that got away

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, right, and

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, right, and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks react from the sideline during the second half of a 34-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. (Dec. 16, 2012) Credit: AP

NEW ORLEANS -- When I look back on the Giants’ season, there’s one play that always sticks out to me. It was a deep post pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks in the Atlanta game at the end of the first quarter.

The Giants had fallen behind 14-0 and on a first-and-10 from the 20, Eli threw a bomb down the middle and it looked like Nicks, who had gotten behind the coverage, was going to be able to catch it and score an 80-yard touchdown to get the Giants back into the game.

Instead, the pass went beyond Nicks’ reach and the Giants wound up losing, 34-0.

It turns out that’s a play that sticks with Manning as well.

He was at the Super Bowl on Friday appearing for Gatorade and spoke about that play and the many others that he and Nicks were unable to connect on due to the receiver’s injuries.

“I think it was just kind of hard to judge, get kind of a good feel for where he was, what his top speed was,” Manning said. “He couldn’t really practice. In practice he was going three-quarters speed. Some games he seemed to have that extra burst. Some games it didn’t happen. I think it was just based on how he was feeling. So I think it was hard to get a sense of where to put the ball where you’re not even thinking, you’re just throwing it and it’s coming out the right spot because you’ve been throwing it in practice all week, you’re throwing it that way all season. With Hakeem, it was just hard to kind of throw it and know exactly where he was going to be.

“When the ball came out (on that deep post), I was thinking -- sometimes you can tell ‘Hey, I might’ve put too much on that one’ or ‘I might’ve underthrown it,’ you can tell right away -- that one felt good right away. But obviously it was a few inches away from being a touchdown.”

I asked Nicks after that game if that was an example of his lack of burst from his injuries, a play he would have made if healthy. He said no, that he felt he was running well. That may just have been post-game talk, though. Clearly he was not running well throughout the season, having gone through surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot in the offseason, missed most of the preseason, and then playing through a knee injury that he suffered in Week 2.

Manning said he hasn’t quite been able to put his finger on what went wrong with the Giants in 2012, why they finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. But he thinks that Nicks’ injuries played a big role in the disappointment.

“I think having Hakeem kind of banged up all year was tough,” Manning said. “He wasn’t that same kind of dominant receiver, and that deep threat, get-down-the-field guy. It was tough on him. I loved his toughness. He wanted to be out there playing. He wanted to try to practice. But he couldn’t quite do it. It had an effect on our offense.”

And if Nicks had been able to catch that pass that Manning thought was going to be a touchdown, well, who's to say the Giants wouldn't be playing in this Super Bowl rather than watching it?


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