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Palladino: Jennings Sparks Giants And Himself Vs. Texans

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Rashad Jennings' efforts to motivate his teammates Sunday worked wonders, especially for him.

But if he really wants to impress them, he'll need to pull out something special for Thursday, when the Giants (1-2) open up their divisional schedule against the Redskins in a very, very short week that follows their 30-17 win over the Texans. Unfortunately for Jennings, he may have used his best material already.

It worked, too, as the Giants' free-agent rusher ran wild for a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown, breaking the personal best of 150 he set last year as a Raider against the same Texans team on Nov. 17.

The speech involved a blessing, that of Jennings having two legs where his father had none. Diabetes, you see, claimed one of Albert Jennings' legs when the running back was a freshman at Pitt. Doctors took the second one soon after that.

It was Jennings thoughts toward his father who, from a TV in Richmond, Va. watched his son help the Giants short-circuit any outside worries about another 0-6 start, that sparked him to a career day. Apparently, his teammates were influenced by them, too, as the offensive line played with a passion and, in the second half, the West Coast offense actually looked like a West Coast offense.

But it was Jennings who had the real overcoming to do after fumbling at the Arizona 15 late in the fourth quarter last week as the Giants tried to avoid a second straight loss.

"Leading the prayer today, I just kind of reminded the guys before we walked out on the field, whatever motivates you to play the game, play like that," he said. "Whether it's a child with cancer, play that way. If it's to prove somebody wrong, play that way. If it's to play for this team, play that way. If it's because your grandma's watching you, play that way.

"Today, I was reminded that my father, he's got diabetes and he had both his legs amputated. He doesn't have legs, so today I remembered that I do have them, so I played that way."

If the Giants are going to make anything of this season, he'll have to continue remembering things like that. Although Ben McAdoo's West Coast system is predicated on quick passing, something Eli Manning did quite well in going 21-for-28 for 234 yards and two touchdowns, the ground game remains important. Against the Texans, it kept Houston, especially its star defensive end J.J. Watt, honest, and for the most part kept Manning's jersey clean. After four interceptions the first two games, Manning didn't throw a pick. That offered at least some temporary hope that this year might be taking a turn.

Of course, there were other facts besides Jennings. The defense got interceptions from Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Prince Amukamara, the last two of which led to 10 points. There was a punt blocked by Damontre Moore that produced a touchdown. And a great stop on fourth-and-1 led to a field goal.

That's 20 points. The win obviously entailed much more than Jennings.

But the running back and his motivational skills proved the star of the day. That, and the groundwork Tom Coughlin laid by taking a little air out of the pressure-cooker in a relaxed day of practice Friday that included a delightful selection of music.

Jennings' little talk was just the capper. But it was key.

His father was probably quite interested in the game once his boy told him he'd be held up as an example.

"I told him this morning when I called him," Jennings said. "I'm just interested in getting the best out of every single person. Try to remind everybody why they do what they do, and try not to force the reason they're doing it, may be the best thing. That's how you get a team."

Now, the object is keeping that team together week after week.

The Giants took a step in that direction Sunday. 0-and-6 is out the window. But what Jennings and the rest should never forget is that after Week 7 last year, the Giants were 1-6.

That's still possible. Unless Jennings has a few more motivational talks stashed away, that is.

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