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Rashad Jennings inspires with his words, then his play

Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) reacts after

Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Houston Texans in the second quarter of a game, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP / Bill Kostroun

In his first season with the Giants, Rashad Jennings has staked out his territory as their philosopher-in-residence. But the key to success in that position is not just talking the talk but backing it up.

Sensing a team in need of inspiration after two losses to start the season, Jennings delivered a pregame talk Sunday at MetLife Stadium that might have motivated him more than anyone else. "We pray before every game," he said. "Leading the prayer today, I reminded the guys, whatever reason you play this game, play like that.

"Whether it's a child with cancer that you want to motivate, play like that. If it's to prove somebody wrong, play like that. If it's to play for this team, play that way. If it's because your grandmother is watching you, play that way.

"Today, I was reminded my father has diabetes, and he ended up getting both of his legs amputated. He doesn't have legs, so today I remembered that I do have them. So I played that way."

Jennings' powerful legs took him 176 yards on 34 carries, both career highs, and he scored a touchdown in the Giants' 30-17 victory over Houston. Thanks to his running, an offense that had tripped over its own shoelaces in the first two games blossomed, totaling 419 yards, including 193 on the ground, and controlling the clock for 32:34.

Describing his approach to the game, Jennings said, "I'm more and more interested in pulling the best out of every single person. When you remind somebody why they do whatever they do . . . you make them the best them."

Whether it was Jennings' words or a good game plan, something clicked for the offense. Facing a tough defensive line led by J.J. Watt, the offensive line blew holes in the middle of Houston's defense, and Jennings blasted through them.

He was especially effective after the Texans cut their deficit to 17-10. The Giants responded with three scoring drives covering 111 yards, and Jennings gained 58 of that total.

It was a measure of redemption from the previous game, when his fumble was a turning point in a loss to Arizona. "It hurt our team at a crucial time -- 17-yard line, an opportunity to tie the game and potentially take over and win," Jennings said. "I took that to heart."

Maybe that was the wellspring for Jennings' pregame talk. He verbalized it first to his father, Albert, on the phone earlier in the morning. Just the thought of his dad brought a smile to Jennings' face.

"He's a little goofball," Jennings said. "We kind of hide his [prosthetic] legs so he can't reach them. We're a family, and we're kind of quirky."

After speaking to his mother first, Jennings told his dad he was going to play for him. "He said, 'Go kick butt,' and he laughed," Jennings said of his father's response. "If I were to stink the field up, he'd be like, 'You ain't my son.' "

Well, that was the point, wasn't it? Jennings knew he couldn't let his dad down, couldn't let his teammates down, couldn't take the vocal lead without putting himself on the line.

"If I wanted to encourage my teammates to play for something bigger than them, I had to follow that lead as well," Jennings said.

Buoyed by the win, Jennings regaled reporters after the game with stories of how an asthmatic young boy whose weight soared to 270 and whose grade-point average dipped to 0.6 in high school found the will to turn his life around. "I did a complete 180," Jennings said.

Clearly, he was headed in the right direction Sunday, and so were the Giants.

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