There have been times, this season and throughout his career, when Brandon Jacobs has seemed a little more nonchalant about his on-field performance than Giants fans would like. Sunday against Atlanta was not one of those times.
Jacobs ran over, around and through the Falcons defense en route to 92 yards in New York's 24-2 playoff victory. Coupled with Ahmad Bradshaw's effort on the ground, Bradshaw helped the Giants to a 172-yard rushing day -- improving the team's record to a staggering 8-1 this season when it rushes for 100 yards or more.
That mark alone could make Jacobs the X-factor when the Giants head on the road in the divisional round to meet Green Bay, the only team that's beaten them when their ground game has hit century mark.
The Packers, as a matter of fact, have not shown the slightest regard for stopping opposing teams from piling up yards on the ground. Ten times this regular season, Packers opponents hit the 100-yard plateau (with one team, the Vikings, getting up over 200). Green Bay lost just one of those games, its lone defeat of the season in Week 15 at Kansas City.
So, it's not as if Green Bay will be altering its defensive game plan to stop the run. Not with Eli Manning slinging the ball around to Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and the rest of his weapons.
But for as much as New York might be able to find success through the air -- Manning had 347 yards passing in the Giants' near-upset of the Packers in the regular season -- any team with hopes of knocking off Green Bay, especially at Lambeau, needs to do what it can to control the clock and play physical.
That's where Jacobs comes into play.
Maybe it was being in front of his home crowd in the playoffs. Maybe it was the knowledge that, due to a roster bonus owed him in March, he might have been playing his last game as a Giant. Whatever the reasoning, Jacobs was a man amongst boys Sunday afternoon.
"Brandon Jacobs set the tone physically," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after his team's win.
“This time of year, that’s what we’re going to have to do to stay in games,” said Jacobs, who had 92 yards on 14 carries. “We can throw it to win as well, but why not use all your weapons?”
When it comes right down to it next weekend, Manning's probably going to have to play a near-flawless game with his offense putting up a ton of points for the Giants to win. As Jacobs said, though, why not use everyone?
Ahmad Bradshaw's return to health has given New York its thunder-and-lightning duo back in the backfield. The mere presence of both Bradshaw and Jacobs hasn't always been enough, mind you. Jacobs, in fact, has just one game over 100 yards on his own this season, and he was booed during a home loss to Philadelphia, when he filled in for an injured Bradshaw by producing a whole 21 yards on 12 carries.
So, there's no guarantee that Jacobs will bring his "A" game to Green Bay Sunday, and it is definitely not a certainty that Jacobs running well will lead to a Giants upset win.
What a big game from Jacobs would do, however, is balance out the Giants' offense -- and not just the run-to-pass ratio. Jacobs' between-the-tackles power, when he's going well, lets New York utilize Bradshaw as a more-explosive option, be it as a receiver out of the backfield or against a defense stretched out to stop the pass. Jacobs also can provide a major boost for New York in the red zone, meaning seven points instead of three, a difference that will be huge Sunday.
We've seen enough of the lethargic Brandon Jacobs to know that his performance against Atlanta might not be more than a blip on the radar. But if nothing else, he's reminded everyone -- the Packers and his own team included -- what he can do when he's feeling motivated.