NFL Nation: Louis Murphy


TAMPA, Fla. -- Just when you think you've seen every possible way to lose a football game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprise you.

Sunday's 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was an appropriate outcome for a franchise that now has 23 seasons of double-digit losses since coming into the league in 1976. The latest loss is up there with any others in the team's history because it came in a home game the Bucs appeared to be on the verge of winning.

Until, of course, they got in their own way. Seattle's fans are referred to as the 12th Man. Tampa Bay fans should be called the 13th Man because they're so unlucky.

[+] EnlargeLouis Murphy
AP Photo/Steve NesiusA bizarre error wiped out a completion to Louis Murphy as the Bucs found another way to lose.
Before we get into the ins and outs of how it all fell apart, let's tell you where the Bucs were sitting. With 26 seconds left in the game, Josh McCown completed a pass to Louis Murphy that appeared to give Tampa Bay the ball at Cincinnati's 20-yard line.

All that remained to be done was to let the clock run down to less than five seconds, spike the ball and bring on Patrick Murray for a chip-shot field goal and a victory.

"The script was written right for us to pull it out at the end," coach Lovie Smith said.

But the script got thrown off as the completion to Murphy was wiped out by a penalty for having 12 men on the field. The Bucs had a few shots after that but were unable to get back into field goal range.

"That sums up our whole season," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said.

So what went wrong to result in 12 men on the field?

Smith didn't want to get into specifics. But McCown said the Bucs brought in offensive lineman Oniel Cousins, who had been working as a tight end all day. Rookie receiver Robert Herron was supposed to come out of the game but did not.

Who's to blame? The logical candidates were pointing the finger at themselves.

"Coaching error on our part," Smith said. "We didn't catch it. Kind of as simple as that. Shouldn't happen. Miscommunication. Blame the head coach. Bad move on my part of not seeing it."

But McCown said all the blame shouldn't fall on the coaching staff.

"We can all help out," McCown said. "We were in a bit of a muddle huddle there, getting guys on and off and playing with the extra tackle. The transition of that from going four wides to bringing Oniel back into the game, we've just got to handle it better. I certainly own it. I didn't see it. I called out protections and other things and didn't get my eyes over there to double-check to see where we were at."

Where the Bucs are at is a 2-10 record and last place in the NFC South.

"That's how 2-10 football teams play," Smith said. "We found a way to lose it in the end."
PITTSBURGH -- A week ago, Louis Murphy was out of a job. On Sunday, the wide receiver caught six passes for 99 yards and was a driving force in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-24 upset victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

If this act sounds familiar, it should.

As a rookie in 2009, Murphy came up big for the Oakland Raiders, hauling in four catches for 128 yards and two scores in a similar upset of the Steelers.

[+] EnlargeLouis Murphy
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsLouis Murphy has made of habit of showing up for big games against the Steelers.
"It brought back memories," Murphy said. "I felt like I was 20 years old playing here again. Actually, I caught that same exact pass my rookie year to set up a go-ahead score. I can't explain it."

Between that December 2009 game and Sunday, Murphy's NFL career was nondescript. He spent two more years with the Raiders, then a season with Carolina followed one with the New York Giants. There weren't many highlights along the way -- until Sunday.

With rookie receiver Mike Evans suffering a groin injury in the third quarter, Murphy was thrust into the lineup. He responded with one of the biggest plays of the day -- a 41-yard catch with 35 seconds left in the game to set up the decisive touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson as the Bucs (1-3) picked up their first victory.

So how did Murphy go from the unemployment line to center stage? He signed last week with the Bucs, the same team that had cut Murphy at the end of the preseason.

Murphy is a native of St. Petersburg, Florida, and after his release, he went home and continued to work out. He also stayed in contact with coach Lovie Smith. When the Bucs weren't happy with Chris Owusu, they brought back Murphy.

"When I was staying in contact with Coach, it was good," Murphy said. "That gave me some hope. I just stayed working out, and then I got that call."

Smith said the Bucs wanted to keep Murphy heading into the season, but a minor injury and the numbers at wide receiver got in the way. Smith didn't forget about Murphy, and that paid off for the Bucs.

"It’s just kind of fitting for a local guy who loves the Buccaneers," Smith said. "While he was out, he stayed in contact with us. He was one of our guys. It says an awful lot about him to come in and be able to contribute like that."

But maybe Murphy's big performance shouldn't be such a big surprise. Back in the preseason, Murphy got most of his reps with Glennon, who then was working as the second-team quarterback. Glennon got the start Sunday with Josh McCown sitting out with a thumb injury.

"I was throwing to Murph about every play," Glennon said. "Every preseason game it seemed like he was the only guy I was throwing to, so we have a good connection, and I was happy when we brought him back. It's just awesome for him. He texted me a week ago and I asked him what he was up to, and he didn't mention the Bucs. The next thing you know, he's in there making a big catch that set up the game-winning touchdown."

And maybe solidifying a roster spot for the long term.

Observations on Bucs' upset

September, 28, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the locker room after Tampa Bay’s 27-24 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday:

The only downer to the upset victory was that the Bucs suffered two injuries that looked serious. Receiver Mike Evans (groin) and safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) each left the game and did not return.

Evans’ replacement, Louis Murphy, was swarmed by the media. There was a good reason for that. Murphy, whom the Bucs cut at the end of preseason, was brought back last week. After Evans went down in the third quarter, Murphy was unstoppable. He finished with six catches for 99 yards, and he had a catch to set up the winning touchdown.

Quarterback Mike Glennon had four victories as a starter last year. But Glennon said Sunday’s win felt better than any of last year’s victories. It should: Sunday’s winning drive in a hostile environment was the most impressive thing Glennon has done so far in the NFL.
TAMPA, Fla. – On a day near the middle of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith walked into his post-practice news conference and delivered a message.

"There's nothing really I can give you today," Smith said.

Smith wasn't being condescending or rude to the media. He simply was being truthful. Tampa Bay's camp hasn't had any major news or controversies. It has been downright boring at times -- but it beats the alternative.

We saw the other side of things last year, and it wasn't pretty. There was plenty of news and a ton of distractions. Former coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman were in the early stages of a feud that would end in divorce one month into the season. And it wasn't just Freeman who was having issues with Schiano's style. Numerous players had problems with Schiano's rigid ways and never fully bought into the coach.

That quickly caught up to Schiano, who was fired after two lackluster seasons. Enter Smith, who is the anti-Schiano in just about every way. Smith is calm and treats his players like adults, and you already can see the results of that. There have been no controversies.

Amid the tranquility, players are singing the praises of Smith. The coach brings back memories of Tony Dungy, who guided the Bucs to their first era of sustained success. That's no coincidence. Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay and has an approach similar to Dungy's.

People already are comparing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks. Smith's hiring has brought enthusiasm to a fan base that hasn't had much to be excited about in recent years. But that fan base has pleasant memories of what things were like in the Bucs' glory days.

On several occasions, Smith has said that one of his goals is to make the Bucs relevant again. If things go according to Smith's plans, the Bucs might be boring, but they'll be good.


1. Smith is known for being a defensive coach, and he has some good ingredients to start with. McCoy and David were All-Pros last year, and they play two of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense Smith is bringing back to the Bucs. McCoy and David give Tampa Bay a nice start, but some other players are going to have to come through. The coaching staff believes strong safety Mark Barron is ready to be a star. If some role players come through, this could be a very good defense.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoug Martin is back from a shoulder injury, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all of the load in a deep backfield.
2. Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.

3. After using their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs have one of the biggest receiving corps in the league. Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5. They're going to present coverage challenges for defensive backs.


1. The offensive line hasn't looked very good in the preseason, and that's a huge cause for concern. The Bucs are especially thin at guard. All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team after not being able to recover from a toe injury. That leaves four guys without a lot of experience vying for two starting spots. Oniel Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards have been rotating at the guard spots, and two of them will emerge as starters, unless the Bucs bring in some help from the outside.

2. Smith went out on a limb when he signed quarterback Josh McCown as a free agent and immediately named him the starter. McCown, 35, has been a backup most of his career, but he did play well in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went out with an injury. McCown threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. It's too much to expect him to keep up that kind of pace, especially with an unsteady offensive line. Smith, who coached McCown in Chicago, believes he can be successful over the course of a full season. But that's something McCown has never done.

3. Smith's philosophy is to play great defense and be efficient on offense. That worked well enough to get Smith to a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. But that philosophy might be antiquated. The league has become quarterback-driven. The Bucs are in the same division as New Orleans' Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. McCown and this offense might not have enough firepower to stay competitive in the division.

  • McCoy has had an outstanding training camp. He consistently has gotten into the backfield as a pass-rusher and has been stuffing running plays. But it remains to be seen whether McCoy's excellent play is simply the byproduct of the weakness at the guard spots.
    [+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounVincent Jackson, in his third season with the Bucs, will have a third starting QB throwing to him.
  • The chemistry between McCown and Jackson has been noticeable. In addition to the offseason program, the two spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working out at a local high school.
  • The Bucs have gotten almost nothing out of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers since taking him in the second round in 2011. But they are trying something new with Bowers this year. They're going to use him inside at defensive tackle in obvious passing situations.
  • The Bucs have high hopes for sixth-round draft pick Robert Herron. But don't look for the receiver/return man to get a lot of playing time early on. Herron has had ball-security issues in camp. He needs to hold on to the ball if he's going to earn playing time.
  • Herron will make the 53-man roster. So will Jackson, Evans and Chris Owusu. Eric Page also probably will stick thanks to his return skills. That probably leaves one spot to be filled from a group of receivers who have shown promise in training camp. Tommy Streeter, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton all have shown flashes, but at least a couple of them won't make the roster.
  • Hamstring injuries have kept cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins out for a big chunk of training camp. But there's a flip side to that, and it's positive. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has gotten a ton of work with the first team and has looked good. Banks didn't have a great rookie year. But his performance in camp probably will keep him in the starting lineup.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The Bucs, who had their practice abbreviated by lightning Friday, got their first full workout of camp in Saturday evening and the results were predictable. There was good and bad. No series summarized that more than a couple of plays near the middle of practice. On one play, quarterback Josh McCown threw an interception to strong safety Mark Barron. On the next play, McCown bounced back and hit Vincent Jackson with a perfectly thrown ball. Coach Lovie Smith said he expects the team to be more precise when it puts on pads for the first time on Sunday.
  • Speaking of first practices, Saturday marked the true debut of rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He missed the offseason program due to NCAA regulations and was very limited in the rookie minicamp by a foot injury. But Seferian-Jenkins said his foot is fine now and he practiced with no limitations. After missing so much time, though, Seferian-Jenkins might be a little behind the other tight ends – Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker. “He’s playing catch-up,’’ Smith said. “But he’s catching up.’’
  • It’s usually tough to get players to talk about specific goals, but defensive end Michael Johnson broke that rule of thumb. Johnson set one goal for himself and one for the entire defense. He wants to get back to double-digit sacks like he had in 2012 with Cincinnati. He also said the Bucs want to have the best defense in the league. Those two goals kind of go hand in hand. There’s been a lot of talk about how defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David compare to Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, who were the cornerstones during Tampa Bay’s glory years. But a lot of people forget the Bucs didn’t fully get over the top until they got Simeon Rice as an outside rusher. If Johnson can make an impact anywhere close to what Rice did, the Bucs could end up being a very good defense.
  • I came into camp very skeptical about Tampa Bay’s depth at wide receiver after Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. But I’m starting to warm up to this position group. No one stood out, but guys like Tommy Streeter, Solomon Patton, Russell Shepard, Louis Murphy, Robert Herron, Lavelle Hawkins, Eric Page, Skye Dawson and David Gettis each had some bright moments. I think one of those guys will step up and claim the No. 3 job. That may be all the Bucs need because I’m not anticipating a lot of four-receiver sets from this offense.
  • Read into this whatever you want, but Jamon Meredith worked as the first-team left guard and Oniel Cousins worked at right guard. After the departure of Carl Nicks, I think the Bucs still are trying to figure out what they’re going to do at guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards get some looks with the first team.

Best Bucs camp competitions

June, 20, 2014
With the start of training camp a little more than a month away, it’s time to look ahead to the best battles.

Tight end. Rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be the long-term answer. But he might not get a lot of playing time in the short term. Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t allowed to take part in the offseason program and that could put him behind the competition. Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker all have more experience.

Right guard. Patrick Omameh worked with the first team through most of the offseason program. But he still needs a good camp to win the starting job. Oniel Cousins and Jamon Meredith also could be candidates to start.

Third wide receiver. This one is far from settled. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans will be the starters, but the Bucs need production out of some more receivers. Veterans Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy looked good in the offseason program and the team has high hopes for rookie Robert Herron.

Cornerback. Alterraun Verner is set as one starter. But the other spot figures to be a strong competition between Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins.

Backup running back. Doug Martin is the starter, but the Bucs want to use a rotation. Bobby Rainey, Mike James, Charles Sims and Jeff Demps will all be vying for carries.

Minicamp questions for the Bucs

April, 22, 2014
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin a three-day minicamp Tuesday, let's explore some of the biggest questions facing the team.

Is there really a competition at quarterback? Not in minicamp, where most of the time is spent installing the offense. Josh McCown will get the first-team work and Mike Glennon will work with the second team. If Glennon is going to have any chance at surpassing McCown, he’ll have to thoroughly outplay him in training camp and the preseason. Unless the Bucs draft a quarterback in the first round, this is McCown’s job to lose.

Will the offensive line be better? It probably can’t be worse than last year when the line’s play was a major disappointment. The Bucs blew up that line and they’ve overhauled it with additions like left tackle Andre Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Still, the biggest question is whether guard Carl Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, can get back to full strength. If Nicks is totally healthy, he might be the best guard in the game and he makes everyone around him better.

Who starts at wide receiver opposite Vincent Jackson? Let’s be brutally honest. That player isn’t on the roster yet. The Bucs may open minicamp with someone like veteran Louis Murphy running with the first team. But Murphy will be competing for the fourth or fifth receiver spot before all is said and done. This team still needs to add a second and third wide receiver.

Who’s the tight end? The answer to that one may come in plural form. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last season. But Wright is limited as a blocker. That’s why the Bucs brought in Brandon Myers. He can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. The Bucs aren’t likely to use a fullback very often, which means there could be a lot of two-tight-end sets.

Aside from Lavonte David, what’s the situation at linebacker? David is set as the weakside starter, which is the most important linebacker spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Mason Foster is the favorite to remain the starter in the middle, but he needs to show he can drop into coverage much more frequently than he’s done in the past. Jonathan Casillas appears to be the favorite to start on the strong side.

Nobody wants to talk about Hakeem Nicks

November, 18, 2013
Hakeem Nicks' continued absence from the New York Giants' passing game remains one of the team's most nettlesome issues, even as the Giants have won four games in a row to dip their toe into the NFC East race. A clearly frustrated Nicks sat out a few plays Sunday, tagging out in favor of Louis Murphy, who helped cause an interception with a bad route, and sitting off by himself until some teammates went over to talk to him.

After the game, Nicks downplayed the incident, saying it was "just football," which it clearly was not. Football was being played on the field, and Nicks was not there. So whatever was going on with him was something other than football. He said he was not injured on the play a short time earlier on which the Packers' Tramon Williams was called for pass interference when the two collided. Several other Giants have hinted over the past 24 hours that whatever the situation was with Nicks, it was unusual and not one they're interested in discussing.

"That’s not something I’m going to discuss," coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "What I did see was the play that resulted in an interception that everybody saw and the play before that, but those things will stay inside and we’ll make the corrections and we’ll do a better job of trying to get everybody on the same page and we’ll move forward."

Weird, but everything about Nicks' situation this year is weird. Playing in a contract year, he has yet to catch a touchdown pass, has not shown an explosive ability to run downfield and separate from defenders and has not been a major asset to Eli Manning in the passing game. The Giants and Nicks continue to insist he will come around, but 10 games are in the books with only six to go, and if he's going to snap out of it in time to help the Giants keep winning and/or get himself a fat new contract, he's going to have to do it soon.

Coughlin said he believed Nicks was experiencing frustration.

"I’m sure that there is, and we all share in that," Coughlin said. "We'll just continue to try to support and encourage him to be the best that he can be and it will happen. There have been opportunities, but we’ve just got to continue to try to get better, work together and it will happen."

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 11

November, 18, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 27-13 victory against the Green Bay Packers:

Anatomy of a game-changer: Linebacker Jon Beason said part of the scouting report on the Packers' Scott Tolzien was that the ball came out of his hand on a low trajectory. So if the Packers were going to be taking three-step drops all night, as they were, the Giants' pass-rushers were instructed to get their hands up quickly to try to bat down the ball. Jason Pierre-Paul knew this, and he said he also knew, right before that fourth-quarter play, that Tolzien was going to throw a screen pass to his side of the field. So Pierre-Paul stayed home instead of rushing and threw his hands up in the air. But he didn't want to bat down the ball; he wanted to catch it. Which he did. And then he ran 24 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

Don't blame Eli for this one: Eli Manning's second-quarter interception was his league-leading 17th of the year, but it was clearly not his fault. Wide receiver Louis Murphy was supposed to break inside -- Giants coach Tom Coughlin said there was no option on the route, and that Murphy just blew it. What was weirder, though, was that Murphy was on the field instead of Hakeem Nicks, who appeared to hurt himself on a play earlier in the drive on which Tramon Williams was called for pass interference. Nicks sat out a few plays, and after the Murphy blunder some teammates went over to talk to and encourage Nicks, who returned to the game on the next drive and didn't want to talk after the game about what was bothering him.

Getting the ball: After allowing an average of only 206.3 yards per game during the first three games of their winning streak, the Giants gave up 394 to the Packers on Sunday. But they also got three turnovers, giving them a total of 11 during their four-game winning streak after forcing only seven during the first six games of the year. They have won the turnover battle in three of their past four games.

Looking ahead: Pierre-Paul said of the Cowboys, who come to town next week, "We're going to put it on them, man." Brandon Jacobs said, "Playing the Cowboys is always good. That's one of the opponents I love to play more than anybody in the National Football League. It means something to our football team." The Giants moved the ball against a relatively full-strength Cowboys defense in Week 1 but lost mainly because they turned it over six times. They are eager for revenge against a Cowboys defense that will be without middle linebacker Sean Lee. If the Giants' offensive line can protect Manning, the game could be a shootout. That's a big "if," but Manning's 279 passing yards Sunday were his most since Week 5, his 71.4 completion percentage was by far his highest of the season and his 92.4 passer rating was his highest since the opener in Dallas.

David Wilson is ready for more work

August, 30, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the wake of Andre Brown's latest injury -- a left leg fracture suffered in the New York Giants' preseason finale Thursday night in New England -- running back David Wilson is prepared to work. Third-down carries, goal-line carries ... whatever they've got for him, Wilson wants it.

"I'm in shape, so I think I can handle it," the second-year back said Monday afternoon of the prospect of an increased workload. "Whatever they need me to do, I'll do. If they need me to kick a field goal, I'm going to go out there and give it 100 percent and try and make that field goal."

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Julio CortezDavid Wilson will have to grind out tough yards for the Giants with Andre Brown injured.
It's not likely they'll need that, but Wilson could well get more touchdowns for whatever length of time Brown is out. Brown was the Giants' goal-line running back last year, collecting eight touchdowns in only 10 games before a more severe leg break ended his season early, and he was ticketed for that role again this year. But that assignment had more to do with how good Brown is at it than any concern over Wilson's ability to handle goal-line work.

"David Wilson, he runs in there hard," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's powerful. He's compact. He has tremendous leg strength. So for him to run the ball on short yardage and the goal line, I don't have any problem with that."

It's true that Wilson's electric speed and his relative short stature (he's listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds) contribute to a reputation that he's a finesse back. But when you watch him run between the tackles, it's easy to see that he runs with power.

"Don't get confused by my size," Wilson said. "I'm a physical guy. I'm from the country. I grew up chopping wood. I'm well put together."

So that shouldn't be an issue. The larger one is that Brown was the back the Giants were using on third downs and in critical pass-protection situations. The departure of Ahmad Bradshaw, who rates as one of the top pass-protection running backs in the league, has created a void in that area, and it seemed as though the Giants coaches were more comfortable with Brown picking up blitzes than they were with Wilson doing it.

But Wilson did a good job of that Thursday night, picking up a blitzing Patriots safety on a play that resulted in a 37-yard pass play from Eli Manning to Louis Murphy, and he said he's considerably more comfortable with the protection schemes than he was a year ago or even a month ago. He's been watching tape of Bradshaw and applying lessons Bradshaw and Brown have tried to teach him about blitz-pickup technique over the past year.

"He's done a pretty good job of that," Coughlin said. "The last couple of games, he's improved. He's a much improved player, much more aware of what he has to do to contribute in the entire pass-protection scheme."

Coughlin did say they wanted to monitor Wilson's snaps this year, and that there is a number they have in mind for him that won't change just because of Brown's injury. But it's possible the Giants could move more toward a "bell cow" running back scheme, with Wilson getting the vast majority of the significant carries while backups such as Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox contribute when he needs a rest. Coughlin also said the team was awaiting the results of further tests on Brown's leg to determine how long he'd be out, and that roster cuts and the decision on whether to seek outside help at running back would wait until they had all of the information on Brown.

Meantime, Wilson is fine with whatever they throw at him. He wouldn't even mind if they gave him back those kick-return duties in which he was so explosive a year ago.

"We're still waiting for the verdict," Wilson said. "Michael Cox has been doing a pretty good job with it, so we'll see. I still want it, but if somebody's going to take advantage like he is, that's all right, too."

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- The New York Giants suffered yet another significant preseason injury Thursday, as running back Andre Brown broke his left leg during the Giants' 28-20 loss to the New England Patriots.

What it means: One week after losing safety Stevie Brown for the season to a torn ACL in a preseason game, Andre Brown breaks his left leg. It’s the same leg on which Andre fractured his fibula against the Packers on Nov. 25 last year. The Giants said Andre could have returned that season if they made it to the Super Bowl, so he could be a candidate for the injured reserve/"designated to return" spot that would allow him to come back after eight weeks.

Andre Brown’s injury is a blow to the running game. Coach Tom Coughlin wanted a one-two punch with David Wilson and Brown, who is the Giants’ most well-rounded running back. Brown could run with power and speed and catch out of the backfield and was the team’s best pass-protecting back. The team will now have to depend on and trust Wilson even more. Seventh-round pick Michael Cox might move up to the backup spot. Ryan Torain’s and Da’Rel Scott’s chances of making the team have increased with Saturday’s final cuts looming.

The Giants could also always look outside and see what is available, especially after teams make final cuts on Saturday.

More injuries: Brown wasn’t the only Giant to suffer an injury. Backup safety Tyler Sash suffered a concussion, and the Giants were already smarting there with the loss of Stevie Brown for the year. With Will Hill having to serve a four-game suspension to start the regular season, the Giants can’t afford to lose Sash for an extended amount of time. Rookie Cooper Taylor will be behind starters Antrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy if Sash has to miss time.

Also, tight end Adrien Robinson suffered an injury to what appeared to be his left foot. The severity of the injury wasn’t immediately known. Already this preseason, the Giants have watched starters such as Victor Cruz (heel), David Baas (left MCL), David Diehl (thumb) and the two Browns suffer injuries in preseason games.

Offense awakens: On a very small side note, the starting offense finished the preseason strong by scoring a touchdown in the red zone. After struggling in the preseason inside the opponent’s 20, Eli Manning orchestrated a 10-play, 91-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard touchdown strike to Hakeem Nicks.

Manning opened the drive with a 37-yard completion to Louis Murphy. Manning also hit tight end Brandon Myers on a 10-yard gain, and Wilson had a 16-yard run as well on the drive.

One more time: Several Giants tried to make a final impression in the last preseason game. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson looked good, applying pressure to the quarterback several times and getting a sack and a half. Patterson might have solidified a roster spot with that performance. Marvin Austin, a second-round pick in 2011, might be fighting for a roster spot.

Middle linebacker Mark Herzlich also had a strong outing, snatching an interception off a deflection right before it hit the turf. Defensive ends Matt Broha, Justin Trattou and Adewale Ojomo all had sacks on Tim Tebow as well.

What’s next: The Giants will make final cuts on Saturday and play in Dallas in the season opener on Sept. 8.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thursday will mark exactly two years since the last time New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas played in a football game. On Aug. 22, 2011, Thomas, tore the ACL in his right knee in a preseason game against the Bears. He tore it again in training camp last year -- the third time in his career he's torn the same vital ligament -- and missed a second straight season. But after yet another grueling rehab, Thomas is looking good in practice and is set to play in Saturday's preseason game against the Jets.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Thomas
AP Photo/Evan PinkusAfter two years of rehabbing ACL tears, Terrell Thomas is ready to play in another game.
"He's going to go, yeah," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday, after a practice in which Thomas snagged one interception and saw another bounce off his hands. "He looked good yesterday, too. Really moved well out there today."

Thomas says he has worked mainly as the nickel corner so far in camp, but has been also playing some on the outside and "studying the safety position" in case there are packages in which they can use him as a safety. With starting cornerback Corey Webster sidelined due to knee and groin problems, Aaron Ross has been running with the first team at corner, but Thomas has seen his practice opportunities increase along with his strength and confidence.

"Whatever they need me to do, they know I'm that utility type of player," Thomas said before practice Tuesday. "My biggest thing is just getting back on the field. I haven't played in two years. My goals of starting and getting back in the lineup and doing all that, yeah, those are my goals. But first I've got to get on the field. That's foremost. And whatever capacity they want me in, I'll do it."

My take: Thomas' story is an easy one to root for, and a lot of people around here are. To say nothing of how valuable he could be if he could approach the form he showed as a starter in 2010, there's an awful lot to admire about a guy who was willing to put himself through a third ACL rehab. I spoke with Thomas for a while Tuesday, and I'll have more on him in a story that will post later this week.

Reshuffled O-line... again: After the announcement that offensive lineman David Diehl would need thumb surgery and be out six weeks, the Giants moved Kevin Boothe back to left guard and Jim Cordle to center with the first-team offensive line Wednesday. Starting center David Baas is out with a knee injury, and the initial plan was to move Diehl from right tackle to left guard, Boothe to center and play first-round rookie Justin Pugh at right tackle. But the Diehl injury forced another change, and Cordle is getting a chance to show what he can do after filling in for Baas in Sunday night's game against the Colts.

"Cordle played very well the other night, so we thought that was the best move for now," Coughlin said. "We're really excited about the way Cordle played the other night. Hopefully he'll keep on going."

My take: I was surprised they didn't leave Boothe at center and go with James Brewer at left guard. It's possible they want to keep working Brewer at tackle in case Pugh doesn't turn out to be ready. It's possible they expect Baas back for the opener and want to leave Boothe alone and let him play guard. Heck, it's possible they're really fired up about Cordle. Nothing's set in stone. If these guys don't play well in their new spots, the Giants won't be shy about making more changes.

The rookie: Pugh said he doesn't know whether he's auditioning for a starting spot or whether he's got one now to lose, but he believes he can handle the role regardless.

"I'm ready," he said. "[Offensive line coach Pat] Flaherty's definitely making sure I'm covering all the bases and going over game film, and this week the extra things the Jets bring to the table. It's exciting that I get out there and get to play, and getting out there for the game will give me valuable experience, which is something that I need coming back from the concussion."

My take: The Giants don't rush their draft picks, even the first-rounders. If Pugh looks like he can be their starter at right tackle, he probably keeps the job even once Diehl returns. But if not, they're not going to leave him out there to take his lumps just because he was this year's first-round pick. And I'm skeptical, since all I heard pre-draft was that Pugh was better off as a guard than as a tackle at the NFL level. But we'll all find out together.

Notes: Coughlin said injured cornerback Corey Webster was dealing with a knee injury as well as the groin problem that's been holding him out of action... Wide receivers Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden and Louis Murphy all missed practice with their injuries, which resulted in a lot of opportunities for Jerrel Jernigan, who worked everywhere and is an interesting option as the slot receiver while Cruz recovers from his heel injury... Justin Tuck, who left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, practiced for the second straight day and appears fine.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What were you looking for in Sunday night's preseason game if you're a New York Giants fan? Not much more than "everybody comes out of it healthy."

Well, I have some potentially bad news.

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz left the game after the Giants' first offensive possession. The team announced that he'd gone to the locker room to have an X-ray on his foot. That's all we have at this point, but I promise I will keep you posted as best I can.

Obviously, it goes without saying that a Cruz injury would be a crushing blow to the Giants' offense. Cruz has led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches each of the past two seasons and has been one of the most productive receivers in the league in that time. His ability to create and win mismatches in the slot against linebackers and safeties has been a key component of the passing offense. Even with No. 1 wide receiver Hakeem Nicks healthy and second-year wideout Rueben Randle showing improvement, Cruz would be difficult to replace. As if to prove this, his replacement, Kevin Hardy, dropped a third-down pass from Eli Manning on the second drive of the game. Louis Murphy also would be a candidate to replace Cruz in the slot, though he obviously doesn't have the same kind of chemistry with Manning.

Also injured on the Giants' first drive was center David Baas, who the team said was having an X-ray on his knee.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Numbers are not what moves or drives him, but the New York Giants' Eli Manning is a quarterback who knows his stats. And when I asked him before practice Friday what he was hoping to improve on, personally, in 2013, his answer came quickly.

"Completion percentage," he said.

So of course I went and looked it up, and sure enough, that number has dropped in each of the past two regular seasons for Manning. From a career-high 62.9 in 2010, he dropped to 61.0 in 2011 and 59.9 in 2012 -- his first season under 60 percent since 2007. Doesn't sound like much, but it works out to 15 more incompletions in 2012 than in 2010, which is about one per game. And when you're a team that either makes or misses the playoffs by a game every year, of course that matters.

But while Manning is a guy who knows his numbers, he's not one for short answers, and he did keep talking more specifically after his initial response.

"Being more accurate and better on our deep balls," he said. "Our big plays were down last year, and that's a big part of our offense. We're going to use play-action, we're going to get the ball down the field. We're not scared about pushing the ball down the field. But it's good when it pays off and you hit big plays and game-changing plays. Last year, I think we had opportunities to hit them and we just didn't hit them. So I think that's what we've got to get better at, is just kind of connecting on some of those deep balls."

I asked him how he works on that, and he went back to the simple answer.

"Just throw 'em," he said. "Just throw a lot of 'em. I think a big part of it is not having Hakeem [Nicks] at full strength and full speed. We didn't have him on many big plays. Victor [Cruz] does a great job in the slot, and we have Rueben Randle and Louis Murphy on the outside now. But some of it is just me throwing the ball more accurately so a guy can catch it and run and take a 10-yard pass and, because it's accurate, turn it into a 20-yard, 30-yard gain. So I think you've got to keep throwing them with that faith that your guys can go get them."

So yeah, Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP to whom numbers are of secondary importance behind team success. But he's pretty clearly bothered that last year's completion percentage started with a 5, and one of the things he's determined to do this year is turn that number back into a 6.
Justin Tuck thinks Victor Cruz "did the smart thing" by signing his restricted free-agent tender with the New York Giants, and of course he does. It's not Tuck's job to worry about the long-term financial implications of a potential Cruz holdout. Tuck's got one year left on his own deal and needs to help make this a big year for himself and for the team if he wants to stick around in New York. So of course he's happy Cruz signed the tender. Tuck's thinking about the 2013 Giants, who need Cruz. The 2014 Giants and beyond, well, they could well be someone else's problem.

And so in reading this and thinking about it, it occurred to me that there are those two different and not necessarily convergent perspectives on the Cruz situation -- the one that regards his current mindset and preparation as it pertains to the Giants' 2013 success, and the one that regards the feasibility of him and/or Hakeem Nicks sticking around with the Giants beyond 2013.

It's my assumption that the vast majority of Giants fans, like Tuck, are more interested in the former. And I wouldn't worry about that too much. Cruz is no slacker, and I'm sure what Tuck says there in Ohm's notebook about him keeping himself in shape is true. He and Eli Manning have spent enough time together that they don't need to establish a rapport or anything like that. Assuming Cruz shows up for camp (which we can't assume, but which I imagine is more likely than not), he should be ready for the season without any trouble. And assuming he and his quarterback stay healthy, there's no reason to doubt that he can repeat his numbers from the past two seasons.

But if he does that, and if Nicks stays healthy as well, the Giants have a situation that may get tricky to resolve. Keeping both Nicks and Cruz at premium prices is going to be a challenge for a team that spends $20 million of its cap on the quarterback position and struggles to create cap room every offseason. They're likely to be faced with a tough choice, and if they are, they're likely to choose Nicks as the more complete, all-around, No. 1-type receiver. But they clearly value Cruz and want him on the team, so it's not as simple as just assuming Rueben Randle will be ready and all will be okay as the Giants transition smoothly from one receiving corps to another.

Obviously, from the Giants' perspective, Cruz signing the tender was the smart thing to do. It gives them reason to believe they'll have their team whole when the season starts and that their offense can function as they've planned it to behind Manning and a high-powered passing game. If Cruz were still a serious regular-season holdout risk, they'd be scrambling to figure out who from the group of Randle, Jerrel Jernigan and Louis Murphy could pick up the slack. And while there is some evidence for the belief that Manning gets the best out of whichever receivers he has, it's clear from significance of the Giants' reported offer to Cruz that they don't see him as immediately replaceable.

That could change in a year. Seven months from now, Cruz could look much easier or much harder to replace. The Giants would prefer to get him locked up now so they don't have to add this to their list of 2014 concerns. But since they can't, they'll have to settle for at least a short-term resolution of a larger problem.