It’s not often a 60-yard kick return can be overshadowed. But that’s what happens when a teammate racks up 227 return yards, including a 97-yard touchdown.
Welcome to Jerrel Jernigan’s world.
After David Wilson already tore off three returns of 50-plus yards, Jernigan ripped off his own chunk late in third quarter that set up Eli Manning and the offense with the ball at New Orleans’ 25. The long return came at a time when the Saints had clawed back to make it a one-possession game. Victor Cruz later scored on the ensuing possession to swing the momentum back.
“We kind of knew, the coach kind of knew, that they were going to kick it short because they didn’t want to kick it to David anymore,” Jernigan said. “So coach had already told me that they were going to kick it short and to scoot up. So I was expecting it anyway, and when it came, my kickoff return team did a good job of blocking and they got on their man early because it was a short kick. I had pretty much nothing to do but hit the hole. It was a big hole right there. Just hit it and run. But the bad part on me is I let the kicker catch me.”
Jernigan was part of a tweak in the return game last week against New Orleans that placed him as the off-returner to Wilson. The Giants have used multiple combinations and formations back there, but always with Wilson as the primary returner.
“It was a good switch-up because [Thomas Morstead] was so used to kicking indoors,” Jernigan said of the Saints’ kickoff man. “Coach didn’t want to have any mishit or him try to kick the ball away from David. So he wanted me back there just in case. I’m just doing the best I can do back there with getting those off-balls and blocking for David back there.”
Jernigan could now see more time back there with Wilson’s growing and needed role on offense. But all parties were coy on what to expect Sunday. All special teams coordinator Tom Quinn would say was that the team always has “two or three guys ready” and that Wilson is always part of the plan.
Quinn was also asked if it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse with teams trying to avoid the explosive returner.
“We’ve talked about that and we have adjustments ready,” Quinn said. “But I think teams are paid to do their job in this league and they’re going to do it to the best of their ability. They’re going to kick it deep and we have to block because Atlanta’s really good on kickoff coverage. That could happen, we have to have some adjustments ready, but I think they’ll kick and cover it.”
Tags: David Wilson, Jerrel Jernigan
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The defending champs are 3-0 all-time in the Falcons’ current home stadium, winning by a margin of 71-30. Meanwhile, Atlanta has sent its last 10 visitors away with losses, dating back to last season. The Falcons are one of two teams (Seattle) still undefeated at home this year (6-0).
“Well, we’ve played very well at home,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said Wednesday on a conference call with Giants beat reporters. “Our fans, I think, are the most knowledgeable fans in the NFL. They know when to cheer and when not to cheer in terms of what’s going on in a ball game. They’ve been a big part of the success that we’ve had, not only this year, but since we’ve been here the last five years. It is a loud building and it is an advantage when you have the noise at home.”
The two franchises have split the regular season series, 10-10, but the Giants hold the tiebreaker with their 24-2 victory in last year’s playoffs against Atlanta. It’s a game quarterback Matt Ryan would like to forget. And he’s done his best to do so as his Falcons enter Sunday with the best record in the NFC.
“You know what, last year is done,” Ryan said in his conference call with the New Jersey-New York media. “Obviously [the Giants] had a great run last year in the playoffs and were carrying a lot of momentum. I think they’re a different football team this year; we’re a different football team this year. That’s more of where my focus is.”
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