Giants Punter Matt Dodge Avoids Public Ridicule From Teammates, Coaches
And yet, the kid from East Carolina had overcome all that to come into the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday as the NFL's fifth-ranked punter in gross average for a Giants team that was tied for the NFC East lead.
But the 23-year-old left the stadium with more hangdog than hang time after booting a line drive with 14 seconds to go directly to Philadelphia 2009 Pro Bowl return man DeSean Jackson, who took it 65 yards to the house to give the Eagles a stunning 38-31 victory and force the Giants to win this week at Green Bay to clinch a playoff spot.
"Just extremely frustrated," said Dodge, who failed miserably on trying to kick the ball out of bounds to Jackson's left. "Sometimes you try so hard to do something -- get it out of bounds -- and you just lose your head. I had plenty of time, just not executing good. Just (try) to get it out of bounds and (I) didn't."
Tom Coughlin erupted at Dodge on the field, but the Giants coach had calmed down enough afterward to discuss the gaffe more calmly.
"I'll take full responsibility for that last play," Coughlin said. "The young punter was told to punt it out of bounds and he got a high snap and didn't feel like he could and we all learned the hard way again."
Dodge admitted that the snap was high, but not too high to execute.
"I mean, I caught the ball," Dodge said. "It wasn't like I had to jump and run around. I caught it cleanly and just sometimes when it's high, I guess, in that situation, they're bringing a lot of pressure. So I just really tried to get it off and lost some technique. Yeah, it was unfortunate how it worked out. But (the snap) was fine."
It didn't help that Duke Calhoun, Bear Pascoe and Dodge all failed to bring down the elusive Jackson, who was playing with a bothersome foot injury.
And then when Philadelphia's Jason Avant de-cleated snapper Zak DeOssie, Jackson was off to another taunting touchdown while Dodge and the Giants were left to grapple with their third defeat in six games. After a 6-2 start, New York now has now fallen to the prospect of having to beat the desperate Packers (8-6) at Lambeau Field to avoid needing help to reach the postseason on the final weekend.
"Point no fingers at (Matt)," said safety Deon Grant, part of a New York defense that had allowed three Philadelphia touchdowns after the Giants had increased their lead to 31-10 with just 8:17 remaining. "He doesn't have any reason to hang his head. It's on the defense. It isn't his fault."
Actually, Dodge does have a reason to hang his head. He plays for the first team to blow a 21-point fourth-quarter lead and lose in regulation in four years. The team that did it in 2006? Coughlin's Giants against Tennessee.
However, at the moment he's still a Giant, and can do nothing positive in moping.
"(My confidence is) good. I'm still here obviously. I came in and my locker was still here," Dodge said. "So that was good. I'm a confident guy, regardless. Football doesn't define me. I know it's my job and everything, and I didn't get it done. But I still walked out with my head high. I had family here, loving on me, and I actually had my pastor from back home here last night. ... I had a lot of support."