With 6:24 left to play in the first quarter of the New York Giants’ Week 17 grudge match against the Philadelphia Eagles, rookie wide receiver Rueben Randle broke down the left sideline, gained a step on Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, turned and leaped to meet quarterback Eli Manning’s 38-yard lofted pass at its apex and completed his pirouette, as he gracefully fell into the end zone.
It was Randle’s second touchdown of the game and his third of the season; he would finish the game with a team-leading 58 yards on four grabs. Randle’s two early scores propelled the Giants to a decisive 42-7 victory in the team’s final game of the season.
OK, Randle’s breakout performance may have been against the directionless Eagles, who only managed to pull off four wins in 2012, and his acrobatic touchdown catch may have been over Asomugha, who is a walking embodiment of a failed attempt to assemble a “Dream Team,” but Giants fans should still see hope in the four passes that he hauled in against Philadelphia.
New York’s nine-win season in 2012 was far less glamorous than the one that it posted the year before. There was no parade down the “Canyon of Heroes.” There were no fingers fitted for rings.
While it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the team’s downfall on one specific aspect of the game, there were a few that particularly stood out. On defense, it was the inability to stop the run; on offense, it was the ineffectiveness of Hakeem Nicks.
After two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Nicks recorded only 53 catches for 692 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. It was by far his least prolific season, as the freakishly large-handed target compiled almost 100 more yards and twice as many touchdowns in his 2009 rookie campaign.
With Randle still unrefined and not ready to make an immediate impact, Nicks was forced to rush back from a broken foot that he suffered in May. It never completely healed, and a Week 2 knee injury only complicated Nicks’ struggle to stay on the field.
As the season wore on, the once-expendable former Giant Mario Manningham started to look far more endearing than he did in the offseason.
The opposing game plan was simplified: Double-cover star wideout Victor Cruz and force one of the other New York receivers to get open in one-on-one coverage. Against the playoff-bound Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, this game plan completely nullified the Giants’ offensive attack.
However, in Week 17 against the lowly Eagles, New York’s previously dormant offense exploded for its fourth 40-point game of the season. Randle was the key.
Randle (6’2”. 208 lbs.) and Nicks (6’1”, 208 lbs.) are nearly identical in size, which should be the first indication that he’ll be able to suitably replace Nicks in the case of a future injury. Another is his durability.
Randle played in all 16 games of the 2012 season—although in a limited role—and that is something that Nicks cannot claim to have done in his four-year career with the Giants. Although one season is a very small sample size, Randle displayed dependability as a rookie.
With only 19 catches on the season, Randle’s top priority this offseason should be developing his timing with Manning. He has all of the tangibles—size, speed and good hands—but can he earn his quarterback’s trust in 2013?
Early in the season, Randle’s work ethic was called into question by his own teammates. That can’t be the case next season; Randle needs to take every opportunity to improve his impact on the field.
Giants fans will be counting on him.