When the Giants face the Falcons on Sunday, there will be high stakes for both teams as they jostle for postseason positioning. It's a rematch of last season's playoff game, and could very well be a preview of one next month.
But it also features two of the most dynamic receiver tandems in the NFL, as Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz square off against Atlanta's Julio Jones and Roddy White. Earlier this season, in an interview on NFL Network, White said he and Jones were "a better group'' than Nicks and Cruz. Statistically, he's correct. But yesterday, Nicks noted that it's not all about statistics.
"Numbers don't lie,'' Nicks said. "Super Bowl rings don't lie, neither. So when you get that battle about who's the best, I think you just let your play on the field talk for you. You ain't got to be talking with your mouth.''
Nicks spoke from an after-school program in East Harlem where he and his Helping Hands program teamed up with UnitedHealthcare to provide healthy, take-home meals for underprivileged children.
Nicks said if he had been healthy, perhaps the numbers he and Cruz have accumulated would be more in line with those of the Falcons and some of the other top receiving duos. As it is, with Nicks missing three games and playing the entire season with foot and knee injuries, the two Giants have the fifth most receptions of any tandem, with 126 for 1,656 yards and 12 touchdowns.
When asked if those numbers might have been even more impressive had he been uninjured, Nicks said, "Yeah, but it's always would have, and should have, and could have, in every situation. It's just the way the hand was dealt to me this year. Y'all know me, I don't make excuses. So I'm going to keep working hard and keep grinding, and it's about how you finish. We all know that.''
Besides, Nicks said he's not interested in winning individual battles. Or even position battles.
"It can be competitive like that, but at the same time you can't get into that too much, because you don't want to just have that mentality going into the game,'' Nicks said. "Trying to say, 'OK, this is a receivers' showdown,' then you lose focus and sight of what the real goal is, of winning the game.''
Nicks and Cruz are among the top pairs, but there's no saying it will last. Cruz has been negotiating a long-term deal with the Giants in recent months -- he's said he hopes to have it completed before the end of the season, tick tock -- and Nicks, a first-round pick in 2009, will be a free agent after the 2013 season. So after the Giants take care of Cruz, Nicks will be right behind him.
"I don't worry about that,'' Nicks said. "He's going to take care of business the way he's supposed to take care of business and when my time comes, it will be taken care of.''
On Sunday, they'll both be Giants. And not worried about where they rank.
"We're going to always feel like we're the best,'' Nicks said. "We strive to be the best. We ain't going to get into that argument of who's the best, who's better, because that's not what it's about. It's going out and playing team ball, and who's going to win. So we've just got to play the way we play, come up big when it's time to come up big and just expect great things."