The best measurements of Brandon Jacobs’ NFL prowess come in brief explosions of power. At his best, the New York Giants’ most dependable bulldozer in a short-yardage crisis is an absolute game changer.
His 42 rushing yards on 14 carries in Super Bowl XLII were a blip in Big Blue’s upset victory four years ago over the New England Patriots. But Jacobs’ 2-yard burst on fourth-and-1 late in that game presented the Giants with a fresh set of downs.
Three plays later, Eli Manning-to-David Tyree became the most astonishing throw and catch in Super Bowl history. Manning capped the improbable drive with a touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress for a 17-14 Giants advantage, and all of that reduced Jacobs’ clutch fourth-down conversion to a footnote.
Fast-forward to the week of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, where a rematch with the Patriots looms Sunday. Jacobs, 29, knows this final game of the 2011 season could be monumental for him on several fronts.
If this is his final game in a Giants uniform, which he has worn since 2005, the often-volatile Jacobs is at peace with that. For a player whose most impressive contribution this season has come when the field is at its shortest — Jacobs has converted 70.8 percent (17 of 24) of opportunities on 2 yards to go or fewer and 8 of 13 tries inside the red zone — he is hoping this latest trip to Indy is a fireworks show.
"No question about it. It definitely motivates me to go out with a bang," Jacobs said. "If it is, I’ll leave with a Super Bowl ring."
He hopes the Giants’ maligned rushing attack — dead last in the NFL during the regular season — can continue the momentum that saw it improve to 117.3 yards per outing in the playoffs. It’s a credit to offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride remaining loyal to the run, along with the return of a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and Jacobs’ punishing style that has helped an often critical Giant’s fan base forget his middling 571 yards rushing in the regular season, his lowest total since 2006.
Maybe in victory, the fans, too, will cut him some slack for his eruptive personality that has often induced outbursts greater than what Bradshaw produced on the field.
His last trip to Indianapolis, on Sept. 19, 2010, was more memorable for his arm than for what he could churn out on the ground: Yanked during a blowout loss to the Colts, a frustrated Jacobs hurled his helmet 10 rows into the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium. Luckily, a fan wasn’t struck but instead caught the thing. That fan famously refused to return it, and a Colts’ official had to forcibly retrieve Jacobs’ helmet for him.
Then there were Jacobs’ ongoing complaints about what he perceived as disloyal Giants’ fans during the team’s 7-7 stagnation this season: "They’re great when you’re up . . . and they kick you when you’re down," Jacobs said after a 17-10 loss to Philadelphia in November. "Right now, I don’t think we’re down. I want them to cheer for us. I want them to be, I want our stadium to be super loud when the offense is out on the field."
Looking back, Jacobs said Tuesday that his rocky relationship with fans is merely a by-product of his competitive drive. He’s willing to forgive and forget and hopes fans will do the same for him.
"In that situation, you’ve just got a guy that is out there trying to work hard and win football games. I am upset, they’re upset. It’s just kind of big brother, little brother-type things," Jacobs said. "Our fans have been great for us the last two months, basically, even with the last couple games of our losing streak. They’ve been with us and supported us.
"We had a lot of people out in San Francisco (for the NFC title game win). A lot of people came out to cold Green Bay (for the divisional win). They have just as much a part of this as us players."
But don’t ask him about fantasy football: Jacobs complained on Media Day that "90 percent" of fans who approach him want to talk about their fantasy teams. He hates that.
"I’m like, ‘You know, man, I’m on the real team,’ ” is his standard response to your fantasy inquiry.
Jacobs, no shrinking violet at 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, also took issue with hulking New York Jets coach Rex Ryan after the Giants knocked off the crosstown rivals on Christmas Eve: "Time to shut up, fat boy!" he yelled at Ryan, along with a tabloid-loving "shut the (bleep) up!", to which Rex reportedly replied that Jacobs should "go (bleep) himself."
This week, Jacobs has emerged with a softer, more reflective side. He knows how precious Super Bowl opportunities are. His two trips with Big Blue have been the result of a grinding regular season and an every-round postseason dogfight to arrive at the season’s final game.
But those battles, Jacobs said, have provided the Giants with great confidence before each showdown with the Patriots.
"We were just going out and playing during those (2007) playoffs. We didn’t really know then," he recalled. "This team, we know that we can come out and do this. We worked super hard to get here, and we’re going to try to finish this thing off."
And what will become of him, win or lose?
Jacobs’ contract runs through 2012, but a $500,000 roster bonus due in March along with his declining rushing totals makes him a candidate to be cut.
Perhaps Jacobs’ unimpressive 2011 ground-game numbers should be put in context with Manning’s ascension to the rarified air of the NFL’s most elite passers: The quarterback, thriving under Gilbride’s aerial system, threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns and engineered five fourth-quarter comeback victories in the regular season.
"Well, we haven’t run the ball very well, and that’s why it’s been overshadowed," Gilbride conceded of the Giants’ lackluster rushing attack. "We haven’t been as successful as we’ve been in the past with that. It’s something that we’re not happy with and something that we continue to try to get better with."
Jacobs vows that Sunday will bring good things for the Giants if the running backs get their opportunities and make the most of them. If they don’t, he says, he’s grateful for what this often-trying season has given him: one more precious shot at a Super Bowl ring.
"You’ve just got to let it take care of itself," he said. "And I’m playing in the Super Bowl for the New York Giants, and if that is the way it is, there’s nothing I can do. But I’m going to do as best I can to help this team."