Time for Nicks to get some respect

Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks reeled in at least one pass on each of New York's five scoring drives. Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT

INDIANAPOLIS -- All season long, New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been asked to explain the evolving wonder of salsa king Victor Cruz.

On Sunday, after a heart-stopping 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, Nicks was asked a number of times to describe the game's critical play -- an extraordinary 38-yard, fourth-down pass from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham at the very edge of the field.

Nicks called it the turning point of the game. But when a small crowd of reporters had dissipated from his podium in the interview area, Nicks was asked about himself.

"You just made the podium for postseason catches and receiving yards," a reporter told him. "Second-best totals. Ever."

Nicks did a double take and his eyes widened.

"Really?" he said. "I didn't know that. Thanks, man, for telling me."

Maybe now Nicks will get some respect. His nasty numbers demand it:

• Atlanta: six catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns

• Green Bay: seven catches, 165 yards, two touchdowns

• San Francisco: five catches, 55 yards

• New England: 10 catches, 109 yards

That adds up to 28 catches, 444 yards and four touchdowns. Only Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald did better, registering 30 catches and 546 yards in his Super Bowl run of 2008-09.

In a taut game that was decided in the final seconds, outside of the two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Nicks was the game's most productive player. He did not catch a touchdown pass -- like the memorable Hail Mary before the end of the first half against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoff game -- but he reeled in at least one pass on each of New York's five scoring drives.

"They were rolling the coverage to us," Nicks said of himself and Cruz. "In the fourth quarter they were giving Mario mostly single coverage. "Eli always knows where to go with the ball."

With the game hanging in the balance, Manning knew to go to Nicks and what Giants coach Tom Coughlin calls "those special hands."

Trailing New England 17-15 with 3:46 remaining, Manning threw that 38-yarder to Manningham, then hit him with two more passes that took the ball down to the Patriots' 32-yard line. Manning's last two passes of the game went to Nicks, the first for 14 yards against corner Antwaun Molden and the next a little 4-yard flare that picked up the Giants' last first down.

After Ahmad Bradshaw waltzed into the end zone from 6 yards out, the Giants stuffed quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots one more time.

The Giants, who were once 7-7 and in a battle for a playoff spot, finished the season with six straight victories.

"We knew what we were capable of doing the whole time," Nicks said. "We believed in ourselves. We believed in one another. We knew we had to come up in clutch situations."

He is not the fastest wideout, clocking a 4.49 40-yard dash, but he runs precise routes and has been enormously productive. In his first three regular seasons, Nicks has caught 202 passes for 3,034 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Much has been made of the six quarterbacks taken ahead of Brady in the 2000 NFL draft. Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn were the most obscure of the Brady Six.

Now, in the spirit of equal time, we give you the Nicks Four. He was the fifth wide receiver drafted, near the end of the first round in 2009, behind Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin.

How you like this ascendant Tar Heel now?

"This is what I came for," Nicks said. "This is what I visualized. It was a great postseason. I'll always remember it."

Greg Garber covers the NFL for ESPN.com.