With this year’s road to Super Bowl XLIII on the line, it’s fitting that it was a New York Giants’ running back named Derrick Ward who stepped up big time.
The evasive running back “Warded off” a potential “Giant” collapse by racking up a career-high 215 rushing yards on 15 carries, including a key 51-yard burst in overtime that set up the Giants’ eventual 34-28 victory against the Carolina Panthers at the Meadowlands on Sunday night.
In building the NFL’s best offense en route to a franchise-best 11-1 start, the Giants were doing what they did best -- running the football.
However, with its leading rusher, Brandon Jacobs, injured and limited against the Eagles, and out against the Cowboys, the Giants lost two straight, scoring just one offensive touchdown in that stretch.
A team that was once punishing good defenses on the ground and leading the league in rushing, temporarily became a shell of itself offensively, rushing for a harmless 88 yards against the Philadelphia, followed by a meager 72 yard effort in Dallas.
Suddenly, a team with a dominant 11-1 start appeared to be giving way to a squad limping into the playoffs with a potential four-game losing streak.
Sunday night, all of that was reversed.
Jacobs returned against Carolina and chipped in with 87 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns,
including the game-winning 2-yard plunge in overtime as the Giants rallied from a 28-20 fourth quarter deficit.
But, consider Ward’s tremendous, career-best effort on Sunday night the key reason that the Giants are at least for now, very much back to basics.
As a result, New York was able to get by a good Carolina team and clinch the top seed in the upcoming 2009 NFC playoffs, which thanks in large part to Ward, will be running through the Meadowlands.