Blackburn makes most of second chance

New York Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn said the coolest thing that has happened during his eight-year NFL career was getting to take an on-field photo with his family following last season’s win in Super Bowl XLVI.

With the way the Giants (5-2) are playing, Blackburn might soon have the chance to create even more lasting memories after another championship victory. But first, Blackburn and his Giants teammates will try to erase the negative ones created by a season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys picked apart New York in a 24-17 victory. The acclaimed pass defense couldn’t affect Tony Romo (22 of 29 passing for 307 yards with three touchdowns and one interception) or handle wide receiver Kevin Ogletree (eight catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns). The run defense wasn’t any better with DeMarco Murray adding another 131 yards on 20 carries.

Ogletree hasn’t duplicated that kind of performance since as Dallas’ third receiver, and Murray will miss the rematch Sunday because of a foot injury. That still doesn’t lessen the sting of what happened in Week 1, and Romo will continue to try to hurt the Giants with play-action and quick passes.

“We were just coming out of training camp and did not execute the way we needed to,” Blackburn told in a telephone interview. “We’ve definitely grown as a defense since then and as an entire team. We hope we can continue to carry that over and play that way when we face (Dallas) again.”

The Giants have shown the ability to dominate. Road wins against San Francisco (26-3) and Carolina (36-7) are proof. But struggles in the other five games have led to a No. 24 overall ranking in yardage allowed.

The key to compensating? Turnovers. The Giants have produced 18 of them (12 interceptions, six fumble recoveries), which is tied for the league’s second-highest total. Generating four of them in the second half of a 27-23 win last Sunday over Washington helped New York survive a 480-yard offensive assault.

“The thing I like best is that we just hung in there,” said Blackburn, who forced two fumbles against Washington and finished tied for the team lead in tackles with 10. “Obviously, that was way more yardage than we would ever want to give up. Almost 250 on the ground between the running back (Alfred Morris) and quarterback (Robert Griffin III), that’s something you never want to see. But at the same time, we fought and got off the field when we needed to. That’s what it’s about now.”

At this time last year, Blackburn was watching football rather than playing it. He wasn’t re-signed entering the 2011 season and didn’t land with another team.

When the Giants’ linebacker corps was hit with injuries, Blackburn returned last November and became one of the franchise’s improbable heroes on its Super Bowl run. Blackburn’s biggest play was a third-quarter interception of a Tom Brady pass in Super Bowl XLVI after covering New England tight end Rob Gronkowski all the way downfield on a deep route.

Having proven he can handle more than backup duties and a special-teams role, Blackburn became a full-time starter at middle linebacker this season. He ranks second on the team in tackles with 41 and has made impact plays in pass defense with two sacks, an interception and three passes defensed.

Not bad for someone who had already started pursuing a post-football education career by serving as a substitute teacher at a middle school in Dublin, Ohio, before being recalled to the Giants.

“It’s a great story and all that, but I did play six years before all that came about,” the 29-year-old Blackburn said. “It’s not like it’s my first time playing or anything like that. I’m just trying to make the most of this and take advantage of my opportunity.”

Taking advantage of the sputtering Cowboys (3-3) is the next step if the Giants want another picture-perfect finish to the 2012 season.