Difference-makers: Kevin Boothe

The New York Giants you see before you -- a team that has made it to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs -- are not the same New York Giants we watched for most of this season. Their enthusiasm and effectiveness bear little, if any, resemblance to that of the team that lost five of six games from mid-November to mid-December. What's the difference? Well, there are many. And each day this week, leading up to the playoff game Sunday in Green Bay, we'll take a look at a player or players who have helped turn these Giants from a mid-pack pretender to a Final Eight contender.

Today: OL Kevin Boothe

Yeah, I was there the day in training camp when Giants GM Jerry Reese came out to defend his offseason inactivity. I heard him explain that re-signing Boothe -- in addition to securing free-agent center David Baas -- had been a priority, and that the Giants were pleased to have done it. And I rolled my eyes just like everybody else did at what sounded like the delusional rantings of a man trying to justify doing nearly nothing to improve a team that had missed the playoffs two years in a row. I wrote a post cleverly entitled "Jerry Reese is kidding himself," or something along those lines. Felt like a real smart guy, I did.

But that Kevin Boothe signing sure looks good now.

You don't get offseason style points for locking up your backup offensive linemen. It's the kind of thing that doesn't seem important until a starting offensive linemen gets hurt and you look up a few weeks later and realize all of the offensive stats have gone down because the blocking is a mess. Go to Washington and ask Mike Shanahan how he feels about offensive line depth, and if he wishes he'd had a couple of guys on the bench who could play like starters once his guys started getting hurt this year.

That's what Boothe has quietly done for the Giants, slipping into a starting left guard role in Week 12 when Will Beatty's eye injury forced David Diehl back out to left tackle. Boothe also played some center this year, when Baas was hurt. After making 14 starts as a rookie for the Raiders in 2006, Boothe made seven total starts for the Giants over the following four seasons. This season, he made nine regular-season starts and on Sunday will start his second playoff game.

"He's played well," right guard Chris Snee said. "Just a quiet, do-your-job guy who knows the system, knows what we're about and what he's supposed to do. You need guys like that on your 53-man roster."

Boothe had some center/QB exchange issues with quarterback Eli Manning, so guard may be his more comfortable spot. But it's nice to know he's available in a pinch if Baas goes down. And more importantly, Boothe's insertion into the starting lineup has coincided with a dramatic improvement in the Giants' run-game numbers. I wrote on Diehl in this space a couple of days ago, and what I wrote then applies here as well. Whether Boothe is a better player than we realized, whether Diehl should have been playing tackle all along, whether it's the weather or something in the water or whatever it is, the run-blocking has been better since the Beatty injury forced the Giants to make these adjustments to their starting lineup. Boothe is a part of that, and he can take pride in the improved numbers. And as it turns out, it was a good thing he was so high on the Giants' offseason priority list.