Terrific Tandem

Did each yard Derrick Ward gained in pursuit of victories for the Giants and unprecedented glory for himself and teammate Brandon Jacobs inadvertently increase the likelihood that those two running backs and fast friends will soon be forced to part ways?

There's a reason why so few backfield tandems ever are able to reach 1,000 rushing yards in the same season. Skill level is certainly a factor but just as vital is opportunity and availability. Usually, one team cannot find enough time on the field or money on the payroll to play and pay two runners who have both proven they can carry the load. The great success shared this season by Jacobs and Ward set records on the field but could also have set the stage for one or the other to leave town.

As the regular season was winding down that was one of the topics in what Jacobs estimated was a 25-minute phone conversation he had one night with Ward, his backfield mate and good buddy. "And we're not phone guys at all,'' Jacobs said.

As the Giants headed into their final game, against the Vikings in Minnesota, Ward needed 52 yards to join Jacobs in the exclusive 1,000-yard club. Only three running back duos had ever gained 1,000 yards in the same season, none since 1985.

Ward and Jacobs wanted to join that company very badly, but with great success comes great rewards. Both Jacobs and Ward are set to become unrestricted free agents following the season. It's not likely both will be re-signed and it's very likely the Giants are making Jacobs a priority. It's also likely there's a team out there viewing Ward as a starting talent and will pay him accordingly, something the Giants will probably not be inclined to do. The Giants certainly do not want to break up the Jacobs-Ward combo but after Ward against the Vikings gained the yards he needed to finish with 1,025 rushing yards (Jacobs led the team with 1,089) it seems more likely that the two should savor the playoff run as the last hurrah for the Earth and Wind portion of the Earth, Wind and Fire backfield.

"That's definitely going to hurt,'' Jacobs said. "Every time the last two years I've been asking him, 'What kind of money you looking for?' It's going up every day. It's actually funny. I laugh at him every time he tells me. He deserves it. He does just as much as I do and he deserves it. It will be tough as an organization to have to make a decision on us. It's going to be tough to depart if that's what we have to do. I love him like a brother and I wish we could still be around each other next season.''

Maybe it can work out. "Anything is possible and anything is impossible so we'll see,'' Ward said. "It will be nice to end my career with my big-little brother but if not it's the nature of the business.''

If this is it then this season should be remembered as something special for the two of them.

"The fact we have two running backs of that caliber is very special,'' center Shaun O'Hara said.

How the two running backs helped each other attain 1,000 yards is a study in teamwork. There is only one football and by nature everyone wants it but never once has jealousy factored into the equation. Jacobs knows every carry he doesn't get means his statistics won't measure up to the top backs around the league but he's never made a fuss about that. Ward knows he's a backup waiting his turn unless Jacobs is hurt but never let ego get in the way of accepting his reserve status. Of course, he doesn't view himself as a backup, did not prepare like a backup and as a result did not play like a backup.

"The little that I have been able to pick up on – how the two running backs – Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward have extended, kind of deflected, if you will, away from themselves this particular record and spread it to their offensive line and their tight end and their fullback,'' Tom Coughlin said. "And I think that is a heck of a tribute to the team and the concept of team in which these players operate.''

There is no doubt they are better together than apart. Jacobs starts out by pounding away on the defense. At times it doesn't appear he's doing a whole lot of anything as he's straining for four or five yards but he's putting a hurting on the opponent. Ward, with fresh legs and a spring in his step, is often able to take advantage, which is how he averaged a team-high 5.6 yards per carry.

"Watching him run out there and do all the things he does, it gets me up,'' Jacobs said. "He goes out there with quick feet and guys can hardly stand in front of him – I say I'm going to finish this off. The guy that can't stand in front of him that is standing in front of me – I'm going to run him over. We're just going to keep going back and forth. Emotionally for Derrick, I can tell the difference when I'm out there and when I'm not. He has a little bit more spark to him and when I see him with a little more spark to him I get a little more spark in me and that's all she wrote.''

None of this is accomplished alone. The offensive line, always under-valued outside the organization, finally gained recognition when O'Hara and right guard Chris Snee were selected to the Pro Bowl. "We give them the first four yards,'' O'Hara said of the work they do for Jacobs and Ward. "Everything after that is on them. They've certainly had a lot of big runs.''

Enough to add up to 1,000 yards for both of them.

"It's something if you asked us both we'd be like 'Nah, it won't happen,''' Jacobs said. "Both of us work hard, we got a good offensive line that blocks and created holes for us all year long, we got coaches that got the ball in our hands, that's how you make it happen. It's a good thing to accomplish, as close as me and him are on and off the field, to share something like that with him.''

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