Wednesday February 1st, 2012

Ahmad Bradshaw is averaging just under 100 total yards per game in the postseason so far. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hakeem Nicks' Hail Mary touchdown catch against the Packers in this year's divisional round was, from the second it occurred, a highlight that you knew you would see over and over again from now until eternity. But Nicks' catch, which put the Giants up 20-10 en route to an upset win at Lambeau, would not have happened without Ahmad Bradshaw's effort on the previous play.

With 15 seconds left in the first half and New York on its own 40, Eli Manning tossed the ball to Bradshaw heading left. Bradshaw picked up a few yards, then cut back across the field and outraced the entire Green Bay defense to the sideline, stepping out of bounds after a 23-yard gain.

It was an incredible display of speed and athleticism from Bradshaw -- made all the more amazing by the fact that Bradshaw hasn't been 100 percent -- heck, he hasn't even been close -- in a very long time.

The 25-year-old Bradshaw has dealt with injuries since his college days at Marshall, and he missed four games this season after cracking a bone in his foot. And yet, he continues to be a major part of the Giants' offense.

"The last time I had perfect feet was senior year of high school and the first two games in college, and then it just started from then," Bradshaw said. "Right now I feel great. ... I’m able to walk around and not be in pain, get out of bed and not be in pain, so I’m excited about that."

There's a huge gap between simply rolling out of bed in the morning without a struggle and being asked to carry the load on Super Bowl Sunday. That is precisely what New York needs, though, from Bradshaw, the "lightning" in its thunder-and-lightning backfield duo, which combines Bradshaw's quickness with Brandon Jacobs' power.

Even with those two together for 10 of 16 regular-season games, New York finished dead last in the NFL in rushing offense at 89.2 yards per game.

The Giants countered that number with a top-five passing offense that was unstoppable at times. Still, from Tom Coughlin on down the line, the NFC champs have talked this week about needing to run the ball well against the Patriots on Sunday.

"His room is right next to mine, so we have had that conversation that this is the game for us," Jacobs said of Bradshaw. "We don’t know what's going to happen after this one, so this has got to be the game for us to come out and do what we’ve got to do together, and we can’t let anybody stop us.”

Jacobs' time in New York could come to an end after Sunday, if the team decides to cut him rather than shell out a $500,000 roster bonus and $4 million-plus contract.

Bradshaw, on the other hand, is signed through 2014 and is expected to be a huge part of the Giants' future. That is, of course, assuming he can stay healthy. Or at least healthy relative to where he's been.

As of Wednesday he said he is "not expecting surgery" on his injured foot after the season ends and that the "bone's growing back" where it cracked. However, the shelf life of an NFL running back is short enough without the type of pain Bradshaw has to play through.

He will suit up and tough it out again Sunday, as the Giants try for another championship.

"I’ve got the heart of the lion. ... I don’t miss game days too often and I missed four this year," Bradshaw said. "I felt bad for my team. For me just to miss any games, it’s heartbreaking."

To get Bradshaw in the lineup on Sundays, the Giants have opted to hold him out of multiple practices during the week. While that may make Bradshaw as pain-free as possible, it also puts him a little behind the 8-ball in terms of preparation.

That's doubly so right now, with the extra week off between the conference title games and the Super Bowl.

"The hardest thing is just getting back into the groove on Sunday, just getting your feet under yourself, which is why I practiced [last] Friday," Bradshaw said. "Offensively, technique-wise, I just work on that as much as I can. Outside of practice I go into the meeting rooms and different things.

"It’s not that hard but just getting back into the groove of just running, keeping your feet under you, and trying to break tackles is what you think about more.”

Like Rob Gronkowski on the other sideline, the Giants need Bradshaw on the field for their offense to work as it's intended. Not only does the 5-foot-10 back give New York a dual-threat player out of the backfield, but also he has proved time and again that he'll burn defenses if they don't account for him.

"I see what he does in the games and how he's able to elude tacklers and break tackles, go from one side of the field to the other," backup Giants running back D.J. Ware said. "He fights -- he fights for every yard that he gets. He's just a great all-around back." Just imagine what he could do on two good feet.

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