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Yards after catch is huge for Giants' passing game

Hakeem Nicks leaps to catch the ball in

Hakeem Nicks leaps to catch the ball in the second quarter against the Eagles. He would score on the play. (Dec. 13, 2009) Credit: David Pokress

Eli Manning is finishing up his finest season as a pro. With three games remaining, he's on pace to throw for 4,000 yards for the first time in his career and has 23 touchdown passes, one shy of his career high.

The main reason for those prolific numbers? The big plays.

In the last two offseasons, the Giants have bemoaned their inability to stretch the field. This year, however, they're actually doing it. They have completed 51 passes of at least 20 yards, fourth most in the NFL (trailing only the high-flying Colts, Saints and Chargers). Eleven of those passes have been for at least 40 yards, which ranks sixth in the league.

As they face the Redskins Monday night and head into the final three games of the season with the door to their playoff hopes very nearly dead-bolted, the Giants will have to keep churning out those long gainers.

But some of the Giants' longest and most effective passes this season have not been bombs that soared over the opposing secondary, arcing across the sky in slow motion while accompanied by up-tempo NFL Films music. Rather, they have come from a series of dump-offs, check-downs and quick hits that the receivers have been able to turn into huge gainers. "We'll take it any way we can get it," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said of those plays. "We think we've got some guys who can run the ball effectively after they catch it, and fortunately for us, they made some big plays."

The 74-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Brandon Jacobs against the Cowboys went about four yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The 68-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks last week against the Eagles was not on a deep post (Nicks dropped that one) but on an intermediate route with some missed tackles.

Despite the heavy passing stats, the Giants aren't airing it out. Most of their passing yards this season actually have come on the ground.

"You see guys have been breaking tackles and going to the house, so we feel like we can do that on any play," Steve Smith said. "In the first game [against the Redskins], I remember a few plays where if I had broken one tackle, I could have scored. That's in the back of your mind."

It's always in Nicks' mind. "For myself, I look at it as a slant or a go route, whatever it is, I just like to make a play and get into the end zone," said the rookie, who has three of the Giants' five longest receptions this season.

The 10 longest pass plays this season by the Giants have totaled 575 yards, or 16.5 percent of their passing yardage. That's on less than 4 percent of the completions.

The ability to strike quickly will be important against the Redskins. It will prevent the Giants from getting mired in the red zone, where the Redskins are the NFL's top defense. But it also helps to compensate for a Giants defense that is allowing 25.4 points per game. Since starting the season 5-0, the Giants are allowing 32.4 points per game in the last eight games, in which they've gone 2-6.

"We don't know what's going to happen with the defense," Smith said. "We just know we want to score every time. We want to be the phase of the game that picks up everybody else."

Notes & quotes: The Giants downgraded CB Corey Webster (knee) and T Kareem McKenzie (knee) to "out"; they did not travel with the team to Washington Sunday afternoon. That means Aaron Ross, who is listed as questionable on the injury report with a tight hamstring, likely will start at cornerback and rookie Will Beatty will start at right tackle . . . The Redskins removed 25 million pounds of snow from FedEx Field in preparation for tonight's game . . . The Redskins have used seven different starting offensive line combinations this season and could be using an eighth if rookie Will Robinson starts at tackle for Stephon Heyer (knee).

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