When Kenny Phillips injured his knee against the Eagles in Week 4, the Giants' medical staff told him he'd be out from four to six weeks.

"I was like: 'No way. There's no way I'm going to be out that long,' " Phillips said last week. "We tried to push it every week just trying to get back out there, and as the time passed, I was like, 'Aw, man.' And just kept missing games and missing games and finally got the bye week. I'm hopeful that was the last game I have to miss."

Phillips did return to the field Sunday night against the Packers, six games and eight weeks after his initial injury. While the Giants played OK without him -- they were 4-2 -- and his replacement, Stevie Brown, emerged as a solid player the Giants didn't realize they had, getting Phillips back could be just the spark that the defense needs for the final stretch run toward the playoffs.

Last year, Osi Umenyiora returned after missing four games and was the jumper cable that got the defense going toward the Super Bowl. The Giants think Phillips could provide a similar jolt.

"Absolutely," fellow safety Antrel Rolle said. "Kenny's return is going to be huge for this defense, and you all will see come Sunday what it will allow us to do as a defense and what positions it will allow us to put certain players in."

"It allows us to put some more packages in," Justin Tuck said of what Phillips' return brings. "It allows us to move a lot of guys around. It allows us to put in some different looks that offenses haven't seen us with yet . . . There are a lot of things he can do back there on the back end that some other guys can't. We're just happy to have him back. He's a hell of a football player."

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Last night against the Packers, the Giants not only used a three-safety set but sometimes went with four safeties, with Will Hill on the field. That did seem to confuse the Packers early.

The Giants thought Phillips would be available when they faced the Steelers Nov. 4. They were very excited to go back to their three-safety look in that game, and Phillips was practicing as if he were going to play in it. But as the weekend approached, Phillips decided he wasn't ready to return.

"Right before the game, it just wasn't [right]. I didn't feel I could help the team," Phillips said. "I probably would have hurt them more than helped and I definitely would have hurt myself."

After that decision, the Giants shut Phillips down. They had been trying to push him back onto the field and attempted different drills and running directions, none of them working. So rather than continue to experiment, Phillips and the medical staff decided to take advantage of the looming bye week and just rest it.

"It definitely feels like it was the right decision," Phillips said.

Phillips' return will help the Giants in upcoming games against some of the most dynamic tight ends in the game. Sunday night they faced Jermichael Finley, and in the coming weeks, they'll face Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez.

Not that Phillips will be locked on to those players exclusively. His athleticism allows the Giants to move him around, play him in different positions, and, they hope, make a difference.

"You know you're going to get a playmaker, you know you're going to get someone who is technically sound and really disciplined," Rolle said. "And he's going to come up with some plays. He's a game-changing player when the opportunity presents itself."

Notes & quotes: The Packers spent the week publicly downplaying the idea of avenging last year's playoff loss to the Giants, but Randall Cobb said on Sunday night's pregame broadcast on NBC that the loss still stings. "When you go 15-1 and are projected to win the Super Bowl, when you let a team come into your house and knock you off the throne, that's something that's going to stay with you," Cobb told Bob Costas in an exclusive interview. "You don't forget those kinds of games, and I think that's something that all of us have been thinking this week in practice. I think that we'll take out that vengeance on the field." . . . Phillips wasn't the only Giant to return from injury. LB Keith Rivers (calf), who missed the last two games, was active . . . When Markus Kuhn (knee) was put on injured reserve, most figured the Giants would have to rely on Marvin Austin to take his reps. Instead, Austin was inactive.