- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brandon Jacobs couldn't resist.
Even after getting a rare start for the New York Giants and having his best game of the season against the New England Patriots, even after being at the center of the jubilant postgame scene and taking it upon himself to hoist a laughing Giants coach Tom Couglin off the ground to celebrate, Jacobs still lapsed into gallows humor.
The Giants started off a tortuous make-or-break stretch of their schedule with an upset over the Patriots. Yet by the time reporters arrived, Jacobs had started talking about running hard like this until the Giants "give me the ax."
It was just a little dig, that's all. It fell a few yards shy of an I-told-you-so. But it was still the worse cutback move Jacobs made all day. And it was the sort of remark that has the whiff of a persecution complex Jacobs needs to drop, not feed and water some more. Because nothing changes for him or the Giants this Sunday.
The Giants have another tough game on the road, this time against the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers, who have the stingiest run defense in the NFL (70.8 yards per game). So this week, same as last, the Giants are going to need Jacobs to pound out yards if Ahmad Bradshaw, who starts ahead of him, can't play with the stress fracture in his foot.
And so, although Jacobs sometimes acts as if there's a chicken-and-egg explanation for his slide in production this year -- if you give him carries, the yards will come, he maintains -- even his own teammates weren't totally buying that explanation by the time they rolled into New England.
They needed Jacobs to pick up his game right away. That's why straight-talking Giants safety Antrel Rolle sat Jacobs down over dinner last Friday night and told he needed to get back to being the battering-ram back he used to be.
Another teammate, Justin Tuck, said after Jacobs finally delivered: "When that guy is motivated to play, he's tough, man."
"He ran like he had something to prove to us -- which he did," Rolle said.
"When that guy is motivated to play ..."?
"He had something to prove to us ..."?
There's a not-so-hidden subtext in all that, you know. And it goes something like this: If the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs could will himself to run as hard as he did Sunday, why doesn't he give that to the Giants all the time?
But especially when it isn't just pencil-necked columnists or TV commentators talking about how he's half-stepping into the line too much for a back his size or questioning -- as Hall of Fame offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf did on air -- whether Jacobs has the toughness the NFL demands.
This time Jacobs' own teammates were telling him, in so many words, to drop the hurt feelings.
Although Jacobs declined to be interviewed Wednesday, explaining that he usually speaks to reporters Thursday, Rolle did have more to say.
He didn't want to characterize whatever feelings Jacobs was fighting by the time he sat him down for a talk -- "You'll have to ask him that," Rolle said -- but he was wiling to recount what part of their conversation he thinks, in hindsight, clicked in Jacobs' mind.
"I was just being a friend, I was just being a person he can talk to, because I've definitely been in situations like he's in, and I might not always have handled it the right way, either," Rolle began, referring now to how Jacobs had complained earlier this season about how he's been used. "So I was able to give him some insight, and just clear his mind of some other things and let him understand what was the real issue, you know? It's not about just the Giants [organization]. It's not even about [doing his best for] himself. It's about his teammates, you know? ... And he understood that."
Then Jacobs did something about it.
A lot of people were later surprised to see it was Jacobs, of all people, hoisting Coughlin in the air. But Rolle wasn't among them.
"He doesn't have any hard feelings for Coughlin at the end of the day," Rolle said, "but, you know, sometimes what you feel is what you feel. And sometimes you just act on it. That's what this was all about [for Jacobs]."
And so, as much as the yardage he picked up, it was important Sunday for Jacobs to tourniquet this snowballing idea that he just turns the aggression on and off when he wants to, perhaps because he was pouting or unwilling to lay his body on the line for an organization that's been cooling on him. And it will be important to have that same attitude again this Sunday, and for the rest of the season.
Jacobs is right, not just paranoid, to think the Giants coaches have cooled on him at times. His role the past two years was starting to make him look like he's the incredible shrinking running back. After breaking into the league heralded as one of those half-man/half-amazing players you rarely see -- he's the best XXXL-sized running back in the league since, well, who, Christian Okoye? -- Jacobs' career has de-evolved. He's gone on to lose his starting job, then some carries, then even his role as the Giants' short-yardage back to Bradshaw, a many generously listed at 5-foot-9. This past offseason, he had to absorb a $1 million-plus pay cut to help the team re-sign Bradshaw, who was a free agent.
Jacobs is a proud, emotional, even enigmatic, guy at times. But he isn't stupid. He had to take the salary cut to stick around.
Although Rolle didn't say anything Wednesday about telling Jacobs another hard truth -- the Giants' coaches really aren't interested in holding grudges; they just want production and they don't really care who gives it to them, so long as they get it -- Coughlin did say something akin to that after Jacobs' breakthrough game Sunday.
"Forget about the attitude and all of that stuff," Coughlin said. "You're talking about a guy that is powerful. He is strong. He looked at and assessed the situation. He knew full well that his teammates needed him. His team needed him to perform at a level that we have come to expect, if you will, a higher level.
"He had the ability to look at the [Miami] game from a week ago, for example, and decide that wasn't good enough."
The Dolphins game was Jacobs' first game back after missing two with a sprained MCL, and he had a fumble and a drop sprinkled among his four carries before he was yanked back to the bench even though Bradshaw was hurting.
"That wasn't the way he wanted to play," Coughlin said.
"Sometimes you just get a clouded mind," Rolle agreed Wednesday. "You've got to understand a lot of emotions come into this game. But at the end of the day, you don't take anything personal. Or you have to try not to."
Jacobs' yardage total doesn't matter to the other Giants as much as the determination Jacobs shows going after yards. When he's crumpling defensive backs as he did against the Pats on Sunday and dragging tacklers a couple of yards, that's the back they know. That's the back they think he can be.
"I ran hard," Jacobs said, "but in focusing on running hard and hitting holes hard, I might have left some yards on the field."
Again, wrong answer.
He should take all those compliments his teammates and coaches were giving him Sunday, and shut up and run with them. Frame them if it'll help. Because they know and everyone else paying attention to his career knows: The running back Jacobs was again Sunday is the back he can, and should, be all the time.
Brandon Jacobs needs to quit the whining and continue to produce for Big Blue.