The fierce urgency of Ahmad Bradshaw, more pronounced than ever

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Ahmad Bradshaw. (giants.com)
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The takeaways from yesterday’s game are obvious:

First, Robert Griffin III is incredible. Justin Tuck spoke for all Giants fans after the game yesterday, saying, “I’m pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East.”

Of course, what enabled Tuck’s witty magnanimity, his characterization of playing against RG3 as an enjoyable challenge, rather than a terrifying specter of things to come over the next few years, is that Tuck’s guy is still the King of the division.

These miraculous late-game comebacks are becoming routine. Or, as Tuck put it to reporters at his locker, with a shrug, “I was just like, ‘Yeah, ok.’”

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Also becoming routine was the game-winning play itself, Eli Manning’s 77-yard bomb to Victor Cruz. Amazingly, Cruz has six catches of 70-plus yards since the beginning of last year, placing him one behind Homer Jones and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch for the N.F.L. record in a two-season span, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

In case fans didn’t know after the second last-minute Super Bowl drive in five years, Giants fans are witnessing an era in which the improbable has become routine. And while RG3 made a compelling case that he’ll own the next era in the NFC East, Eli countered that we’re still in the midst of the present one.

A LESS CENTRAL ASPECT OF YESTERDAY'S GIANTS win: Ahmad Bradshaw’s frequent emotional outbursts.

Were they the actions of a heart-and-soul leader a of a team that was slouching toward a devastating loss and needed a kick in the ass (or in Victor Cruz’s case, a slap upside the head)? Or did they represent an emotional meltdown from a player whose purchase on relevance is eroding as his athletic ability crumbles?

Someone put something in Bradshaw’s coffee yesterday. FOX cameras spotted this early and trained on him for the rest of the game. It started during the ritual playing of “Hell’s Bells” before the opening kickoff, during which Bradshaw ardently drummed along, and then engaged a besuited middle-aged corporate type who happened to be standing on the sideline in a moment of rhythmic head-bobbing.

On the game’s first series, after he busted through tackles on an 11-yard swing pass, he popped up from the ground and broke into spasms of convulsive flexing. This is always been Bradshaw’s appeal: the anger that pervades his game, the way he bursts around the field in mini-explosions of defiance, as if perpetually saying, The fuck off me.

There were many more moments: He slammed his helmet on the ground after Manning’s first interception late in the third quarter. He whapped Victor Cruz on the back of his head at some point in the third quarter, drawing a palm-upturned “What the hell was that?” gesture from Cruz. Then he and Tom Coughlin bumped into each other and then started screaming at each other as Bradshaw was going back onto the field after a Giants interception; the exchange looked like it fell somewhere in between “heated words” and getting each other pumped up. He had a similar exchange with running backs coach Jerald Ingram. Again, Bradshaw seemed to walk the line between whipping his teammates up and losing his shit.

Nobody on the outside knows which characterization is more accurate. When a reporter asked Coughlin what had happened between them, Coughlin curtly replied, “That’s between he and I.” (Coughlin let Bradshaw stay in the game, evidence that he wasn’t too displeased with any insubordination.)

In the past, Bradshaw has been an enigmatic figure, whose unknown criminal past seemed to have something to do with that naughty-kid expression on his face, which in turn seemed to have something to do with the fact that Coughlin didn’t seem to have full trust in him. “Badshaw,” his teammates jokingly called him years ago.

But for a team for whom a few lackluster performances can mean the difference between another real shot at the Super Bowl and missing the playoffs, there’s something galvanizing about Bradshaw’s chip on his shoulder and urgency. His window of effectiveness is closing. He needs to win games now.

And even though yesterday represented a step backward for Bradshaw and the Giants’ running game—after two great weeks, the Giants managed only 64 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry—Bradshaw still had his moments. The highlight of course was his one-yard touchdown run, where he was stopped on his first effort but then drove and stretched and willed his way past the plane (at least as far as any camera replay could tell).

He punctuated that touchdown the way he always does: With that running, spinning jump-spike about which he once told me, “I just thought about it one day before the game and did it. I liked it. Got some good pics out of it. Now I’m signaturizing it.”

He didn’t get as much air underneath him as he used to. But the spike was as emphatic as ever.