EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It took 16 games for the Giants to finally run the ball the way they really want to run it, but finally in the finale last Sunday, they had their first 100-yard rusher. Finally, with 161 rushing yards, they really controlled the game on the ground.
The timing couldn't have been better as they begin the playoffs on the road in absolutely frigid conditions against an offensive juggernaut in Green Bay. They'll have to run the ball both to keep the Packers off the field and to control their own offense in dangerous elements.
And doing that on the road in their season-ending 19-10 win in Washington, was something that they absolutely needed to see.
"It was major for us because we needed that momentum-builder to head into the playoffs," said running back Rashad Jennings. "That was a playoff atmosphere playing against the Redskins because it was a must-win for them. We understood where we were at and every organization I've been part of, they want to stop the run, run the football. Be able to do those things and play hard-nosed defense, you can find your way to a championship."
For most of the season it looked like the Giants had no shot at doing that in the running game. They finished the regular season averaging 88.2 yards per game on the ground, making them the fourth-worst rushing team in the NFL. But that's deceptive considering they averaged about 68 in the first half of the season.
In the second half, that number jumped up to 108.25.
And a lot of that had to do with the infusion of rookie Paul Perkins, who got an increasing share of the workload over time and ended up making his first career start in Washington last Sunday. He took advantage by rushing 21 times for 102 yards.
With his fresh legs, burst of speed and shifty moves, he believe that's just the start and the best is yet to come.
"I have high expectations for myself," Perkins said. "I'm looking forward to doing better things. I left a lot of yards on the field last week. It doesn't mean anything if I don't back it up this week."
The Giants have a lot of faith in Perkins, their fifth-round pick out of UCLA. They considered him a steal at the time, though they knew he'd take a little time to fully develop. He didn't play until Week 4 and didn't have double-digit carries until Week 9, though he did flash some impressive explosiveness along the way.
Perkins finished the regular season with 456 yards on 112 carries. His game in Washington, though, was by far his best performance.
"Paul did a great job," said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. "I mean he did a phenomenal job, made some guys miss. He's done some of the things that we've seen throughout the season, whether it's being able to make guys miss or break arm tackles."
Jennings, 31, played better in the second half of the season too once he was recovered from a thumb injury that kept him out three games. He finished with 593 yards on 181 carries, including 52 yards on 18 carries as Perkins' sidekick in Week 17.
Together, they're not the 1-2 punch that Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw were in 2007 and 2011. But from the depths of a team that couldn't run the football at all in the early going, they might have cobbled together a rushing attack that could be just good enough.
"I think we've made some progress running the football," Sullivan said. "We're really excited about a lot of the things that happened, particularly last week, in a game where the opponent had to win to get in. To be able to have 40 rushes and put up those type of yards and not have any negative rushes is something that gives us the type of confidence and momentum that I think you need."