Jeremy's struggles Shocking

On the day Eli Manning made his NFL starting debut, on the day when fans filled Giants Stadium to see this dawn of a new era, on the day when the Giants after a rough start were desperately trying to make something happen in the second half against the Falcons, Jeremy Shockey heard cheers from his fans.

As perhaps the team's most visible and energizing player, Shockey has basked in the glow of adoring fans ever since he set foot in Giants Stadium. But this was different. Shockey with 10:53 remaining in the third quarter caught a simple five-yard pass from Manning, a first down play that shouldn't have triggered much emotion out of anyone. But there were the paying customers, sending cheers down to the field, down toward Shockey.

These were not the cheers any athlete wants to hear. These were mock cheers, sarcastic cheers, the sort of cheers he's never heard before. They were cheering because after dropping three passes in the first half, Shockey finally held onto one.

"I can't even hear if they cheer or boo, whatever they do,'' Shockey said a day afterward. "Like I've said when people ask me those questions, I don't really hear whatever they do.''

Believe him if you wish but know this, the sounds of discontent had to sting his ears. Earlier in the game, Shockey had a case of the drops, contributing to a 14-0 deficit, doing nothing whatsoever to ease Manning's transition in his first start. Shockey failed to hold onto a pass with cornerback Jason Webster and linebacker Chris Draft bearing down on him, which was a play he could have made but certainly not a play he should have made.

Near the end of the first half, though, Manning was finally starting to shake off the rust and ease into a rhythm. He found fullback Jim Finn on a swing pass for 15 yards and the Giants had succeeded in moving into Atlanta territory. From the Falcons 42-yard line, Manning looked downfield and there was Shockey, open at the 22-yard line. The pass wasn't perfect but good enough and Shockey was far from perfect, dropping the ball to ruin a promising drive. Shockey got his act together in the second half, became a part of history by hauling in Manning's first career touchdown pass but the damage was done and the Giants lost their third straight game, 14-10, spoiling Manning's debut.

Shockey came and went in the locker room that night, not stopping to face the music with the media, and the next day he explained that he was so frustrated that he was afraid he'd say something he'd later regret. This time, Shockey did admit that if he and his teammates had done their jobs, Manning would have had a much easier time doing his.

"Just, you know, having a young quarterback in Eli come in and he played well enough to win the game and we just, myself, just left all those plays out there,'' Shockey said. "You don't want people seeing that and you definitely don't want to play like that. He had confidence. He did everything this organization asked him to do and it's just hard because he played a great game and well enough for us to win and we at the skill positions, myself, we just didn't make plays for him and we really didn't help him out as much as we should have.''

Amani Toomer joined Shockey in failing to make plays to help Manning and afterward, Manning dutifully accepted responsibility for the misfires, saying his passes needed to be more precise.

"No, we should have made the catches,'' Shockey said. "He's a competitive person so he's going to say that. You know, he's a pleasure to play with and he's going to be here a while and a lot of people in this locker room are going to be here a long time so we just got to straighten things out and just make plays for him because when he makes passes, it's our job to catch them no matter where they are. There are no excuses for whatever balls we drop.''

These are not the sorts of explanations Shockey is supposed to be giving, not in his third year with the Giants. It's not as if the bloom is off the rose with Shockey but he clearly has not played this season anywhere close to the outrageous level he did in his rookie and second seasons, despite battling through numerous injuries that caused him to miss significant practice time. Shockey is healthier than he's ever been but the results are sometimes sickly and strangely enough, there's no longer that buzz around him that was seemingly part of his persona.

On a television broadcast, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was described in glowing terms as a Shockey-type player, and the feeling was that Witten was on his way to supplanting Shockey. After Manning's debut, Giants co-owner Wellington Mara noted that he believed there were more No. 10 jerseys at Giants Stadium than they were No. 80. Shockey several times this season expressed disappointment in himself, his role, his difficulty in adjusting to an expanded job description that included more blocking. He once even said he's not the player he was.

Jeremy Shockey, over-the-hill at 24?

Hardly. But not the same dynamic force he was, either.

Is this paralysis by analysis? After all, through 10 games Shockey led the Giants in receiving with 42 catches for 452 yards and his five touchdowns far and away led the team. He had only four touchdown catches in his first two years combined.

No one can deny that Shockey is a force and a player who can change the direction of a game. But there is also no denying that in a season that once contained so much potential, have there been any plays out of Shockey that made you shake your head in wonderment?

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