Hakeem Nicks always says big time players make big time plays.
Harkening back to his days playing basketball growing up -- he claims he was pretty good too -- the 24-year-old wide receiver went up and made the biggest one of his career in Sunday’s 37-20 upset of the Packers in the NFC divisional round.
Nicks answered quarterback Eli Manning’s 37-yard prayer as time expired in the second quarter, sprinting downfield, turning in the left corner of the end zone, elevating, boxing out safety Charlie Peprah and snagging the Hail Mary pass against his helmet with his red gloves to give the Giants a commanding 20-10 lead.
“I actually didn’t realize that it was off of my helmet,” said Nicks, who also had a 66-yard TD catch and run and finished with six catches for 165 yards and two scores. “I didn’t realize that. I thought it was on my chest or something. But like I said, after the game it was something I would have to go back and see. When I went back to see it on film it was actually a pretty good catch.”
The Giants run that last-second desperation play -- a play coach Tom Couglin calls “flood tip” -- in practice every Saturday, with one major caveat.
“We never throw it,” said Nicks, who had never made a catch like that at any level: from Pop Warner to high school to college to the pros. “We just practice the landmarks that we got to get to. And it was just a matter of me going up to get the ball.”
Fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz called Nicks a “monster.”
“We’re never shocked when he does something like that,” Cruz said.
Coughlin called Nicks’ hands “special.”
“This guy gets his hands on the ball and like I said [Sunday night], when I saw those red gloves go up, he is going to be up above everybody else and we would have a good chance of catching that one.”
The Giants coach said Nicks’ big play ability was one of many reasons why the team selected him with the 29th overall pick in the first round of the 2009 draft.
“I think he is a lot faster than people give him credit for, especially when he is being chased,” Couglin said. “He came out of the other end when he got hit. He got tagged pretty good by Peprah [on the 66-yard TD] and it kind of knocked him around and turned him around and he remembered which way was north and away he went.”
Despite emerging as one of best receivers in the NFL during the playoffs -- he ranks first in catches (13) and touchdowns (four) and second in yards (280) -- Nicks claims he’s still just “scratching the surface” on his potential.
Umm ... have you been watching yourself?
“I don’t think it’s too impressive. Honestly, I don’t think you ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Nicks, who has recorded TDs of 4, 72, 66 and 37 yards this postseason -- double-teams be damned -- and two of the three longest ones in franchise postseason history. “I’m just now peaking personally.”
If that’s the case, look out NFL.
Remember when everyone was concerned about his drops? Not anymore.
“It’s all about how you respond to certain situations like that,” said Nicks, who had seven drops and 76 catches during the regular season. “It’s good to be around a team like this to lift you up in times when you’re down. But it’s a matter of bouncing back and being strong and being there to get through it mentally.”
Lately, Nicks hasn’t been able to wipe the smile off his face when talking to reporters. And it got even wider when he was asked if he saw himself as one of the best wideouts in the league.
“Yes, I do,” Nicks replied.
When did you start believing that?
“From the beginning. I always think of myself as the best. That’s what I play the game for. I play to be the best. I don’t think you should play it for no other reason,” he said.
“I really don’t care what others think honestly,” Nicks said. “As long as my team believes in me. I believe in myself, I know what I believe in.”
The Giants are just one win away from the Super Bowl. Not too shabby for Nicks’ first postseason.
“Sixty minutes away from the dream,” Nicks said. “It’s something that we look forward to as a team. Something I’ve been looking forward my whole life, since I’ve been playing football. It’s coming, so I look forward to it.”