- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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So, do you remember a game against the Buffalo Bills last October in which New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 104 yards and three touchdowns? It was a significant game, because Bradshaw had called out his offensive line after the previous game for failure to open running lanes, and his words appeared to have taken effect. The thought at the time was that Bradshaw and the Giants' running game might get on a roll, but two weeks later he injured his foot again in a game against Miami and he didn't have another 100-yard rushing game until Sunday, when he got 200 on 30 carries.
That's 200 yards on the ground, folks, and you can "Well, but it was Cleveland" me all you want. It's 200 yards, and it's a gigantic breath of fresh air for Bradshaw, who just a couple of weeks ago appeared as though he might lose a large chunk of carries (if not his job) to upstart Andre Brown. That no longer seems a concern, especially as Brown is now the one banged-up, and the Giants are with Bradshaw where they were 51 weeks ago -- hopeful that the big breakout Sunday was the start of something big.
So ... is it?
It could be. The Giants' line does seem to be blocking better these days with a healthy and rejuvenated Will Beatty at left tackle. And Bradshaw's injury issue a couple of weeks ago was a neck problem and not a recurrence of his perennial foot issues. As much as they're a pass-first offense now behind Eli Manning and his apparently endless font of wide receiver talent, the Giants would love for their running game to at least represent a legitimate threat. They like having Bradshaw on the field even when they're passing, since he excels at blitz pickup, and they would love for him to be the kind of back who can roll up 20-25 carries a game and produce reliable numbers.
But it also may not. Bradshaw's 6.7 yards per carry in Sunday's game is a ludicrous number for anyone, but especially for a guy who's average has dropped each year of his career and bottomed out at 3.9 in 2011. It speaks to the idea of aberration, and next week's game against the ultra-stingy 49ers isn't a screaming opportunity to keep this thing rolling. If Bradshaw does somehow have a big game on the ground Sunday in San Francisco, it will justifiably be taken as a sign that he's turning the corner as a back and taking the next step toward being what the Giants believe and hope he can be. If he does not, there will be worry over whether it was because of the Niners' defense or because this week was a fluke.
Bradshaw must do two things in order to turn this latest breakout into a big season. He must stay healthy and he must repeat his performance. Not repeat Sunday's performance, because no one should be expected to do that. But he must repeat performance week-to-week, to the point where he's a reliable producer of rush yards and clock-control offense. It's on Bradshaw, who has been unable to stay healthy or repeat performance very much throughout his career, to do both going forward. If he does, the already-scary Giants offense could be something along the lines of unstoppable. And with all of the injuries they've had lately on both sides of the ball, a Bradshaw breakout is just the kind of thing they need.