- Kieran Darcy, ESPNNewYork.com
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brandon Jacobs may be playing his last game as a New York Giant.
That's certainly not the predominant storyline heading into Sunday in Green Bay, with a berth in the NFC Championship Game on the line. But it's true -- although Jacobs thinks the Giants will still be playing next week.
"I'm very confident," Jacobs said after practice Thursday. "I feel good about our opportunity. I wake up every morning feeling so good about this game."
Jacobs could play a pivotal role in whether the Giants move on to face either the New Orleans Saints or San Francisco 49ers next weekend -- despite the fact that the Giants were the worst rushing team in the NFL during the regular season (89.2 ypg), and Jacobs personally rushed for his lowest yard total since his second year in the league (571).
Down the stretch, the Giants' running game turned it up a notch, rushing for at least 100 yards in four of the team's final five regular season games. And it exploded for 172 yards on the ground in the team's 24-2 playoff victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week.
Jacobs had 92 of them, on 14 carries, and said Thursday he feels fresh despite being so deep into the season. "I feel really good," Jacobs said. "And I don't know the reason for that, but I feel good, and I'm confident in our chances."
Jacobs' backfield mate, Ahmad Bradshaw, missed practice the past two days because of nagging foot and back injuries. But head coach Tom Coughlin expects Bradshaw to play on Sunday.
As for why the Giants have suddenly become a stronger running team of late, no one seems to have a definitive reason. "I wish we had the magic answer," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said last week before the Falcons game. "I don't know what galvanized it or sparked it, but something got it going."
Left tackle David Diehl weighed in on Thursday. "I think it's just a collective determination -- we understand how important it is," Diehl said. "I think that's something that we put on our back and said that, 'Hey, if we want to be successful, if we want to keep this thing going, we need to get the run game going.' And I think all of us said, 'Hey, it doesn't matter if there's eight guys in the box, nine guys in the box, we're gonna find a way to get it done.'
"If we go out there and lay it all on the line for 60 minutes, especially for our running backs the way that they are running, then we can be successful."
As for Jacobs, he has made more headlines with his mouth than with his play this season. He complained about his playing time, criticized Giants fans for booing, and got into a verbal altercation with Rex Ryan after the Giants' win over the Jets on Christmas Eve.
But he also rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Dallas on Dec. 11. And his 34-yard run in the second quarter against Atlanta last week was one of the biggest plays of the game.
Speaking of big plays, Jacobs made one against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game four years ago that people still talk about to this day. Early in the first quarter, Jacobs took a handoff from Eli Manning, ran to the right and saw All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson standing in his path. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs lowered his right shoulder and delivered a punishing blow to Woodson, driving him to the ground.
Jacobs remembers the play well. "The sideline got up, everybody got pumped up and on it went," he said Thursday. "It still was a dogfight, we didn't just run away with [the game], but it definitely came out to our favor in the end."
Jacobs has delivered a few hits like that this season as well. "It's exciting -- to be able to have him come in there and set the physical tempo in the running game is amazing," Diehl said. "He's not scared to try running over a linebacker, and you get defensive backs that aren't gonna take him on full steam ahead. When you get that going and you hear big hits, I think it gets everybody energized."
Running the ball will be crucial on Sunday, if only to keep the ball away from the Packers and their dynamic offense, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In the one game the Packers lost this season, to Kansas City on Dec. 18, the Chiefs rushed the ball 39 times and held the ball for more than 36 minutes.
"If we can keep [Rodgers] off the field, the less opportunities they have as an offense, the better our chances are of winning," Jacobs said.
Jacobs can play a big part in that. If not, he will likely be wearing a different uniform in his next NFL game. Jacobs has one year remaining on his current contract, but would be due $4.9 million next season -- a hefty price to pay for a 30-year-old running back coming off a 571-yard season.
But that decision is at least a couple months away. At the moment, Jacobs -- who became the Giants' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns last month -- is focused on making a little more history.
"Things coming together like they have the last couple of weeks," Jacobs said, "it's gonna be tough to beat us."
Brandon Jacobs could play a pivotal role in the Giants' running game on Sunday.