Nicks predicts big plays in final two weeks

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It’s been a long year for Hakeem Nicks.

First, the star wide receiver broke a bone in his right foot during workouts back in May, and missed most of the offseason and training camp.

He returned in time for the Giants’ Week 1 game against the Cowboys, and had a vintage Nicks performance in Week 2 against the Buccaneers, with 10 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown.

But then he missed the next three games with a sore knee and foot.

Nicks has played in every game since, but clearly hasn’t been himself. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game since (his high is only 77 yards), and he’s only had two more touchdown grabs.

"I feel fine," Nicks said Thursday. "Right where I’m always at around this day."

When asked if "always" is relative to this season, Nicks, who is reluctant to discuss injuries, just smiled.

His offensive coordinator came to his defense Thursday.

"The kid is trying as hard as he can," Kevin Gilbride said. "I could not be prouder of his toughness, and his commitment to the team, and trying to do as well as he can. But he’s not the same player.

"He’s still an effective player. He’s still a good player. He’s just -- right now physically, he can only do what he’s capable of, and with the setbacks he’s had physically, it’s just not the same."

Last season the Giants had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Nicks (76 catches, 1,192 yards) and Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards). It was the second consecutive 1,000-yard season for Nicks, in his third year in the league.

Cruz eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark again two weeks ago against the Saints, but Nicks’ numbers are not nearly as good as last year’s: 53 catches, 692 yards.

The Giants’ offense clearly has suffered as a result. Eli Manning hasn’t had as good a season as he did in 2011, throwing almost as many interceptions (15) as touchdowns (20). Cruz still has 79 catches for 1,019 yards -- but his average yards per reception has dropped from 18.7 to 12.9, with more attention paid to him.

Still, the Giants have a chance to make another Super Bowl run, if they win their final two games of the regular season. And Nicks thinks he and Manning still have some big plays in them.

"I feel like we’re just off by a hair," Nicks said. "I feel like that’s about to change."

Cruz had better numbers in the 2011 regular season. But remember, Nicks was the Giants’ leading receiver in the playoffs. He had 100-yard receiving games against the Falcons, Packers and Patriots, and scored four touchdowns.

Nicks believes he can do it again in 2012.

"You just gotta have the right mentality and focus and keep working hard. The hard work definitely pays off,” Nicks said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been going through this for nothing. Something good’s gonna come out of it."