Early Exit

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward were packing their belongings into trash bags, bracing themselves for the reality of this offseason.

As much fun as they've had as "Earth" and "Wind," the fire is about to burn out on their professional partnership. Jacobs and Ward realize that they've probably played together for the last time. They love each other like brothers, but they've got families to think about, lives after football to secure.

So come March, the unrestricted free agents-to-be anticipate that they'll work in different zip codes.

"I am not ready to face that, but the reality of the business and the nature of the business is probably going to keep us apart," said Jacobs, who gained 1,089 rushing yards on only 219 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. "So I am emotionally preparing myself for that departure, with me and Derrick."

The consensus is that, if forced to choose, the Giants will sign the 26-year-old Jacobs to a long-term contract. The 6-4, 265-pound Jacobs has missed eight games due to injuries in the past two seasons and his contact-seeking style isn't conducive to a 10-year career. He has, however, developed into an elite tailback, despite playing in a defensive end's body.

"I've done all I can do all year long, and I hope that's enough to bring me back," Jacobs said. "If not, there's 31 other teams. But this is where I want to be."

Ward, meanwhile, seems more resigned to seeking employment elsewhere once free agency begins on Feb. 27.

"I want to be back here as a New York Giant," said Ward, who averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry en route to producing 1,025 yards and two touchdowns. "This is what I consider home. I've been here for five years. It's a great organization. We're a Super Bowl-caliber team every year. It would be great to come back, but it's a business thing."

If the 5-11, 228-pound Ward, 28, signs with another team, the Giants will just have to hope Ahmad Bradshaw can fill the role in which Ward thrived throughout the 2008 season. That scenario would probably be best for all three of their careers, but it'll still sting.

"I'll miss it a lot," Ward said. "Those guys are like my brothers. To be on a different team from them, it'll hurt. But like I said, it's a business thing. That's what happens in the NFL."

Will Mathias move again?

With Osi Umenyiora on track to return from his knee injury next season, RDE Mathias Kiwanuka could be moved back to SLB.

Kiwanuka succeeded at that position before suffering a season-ending leg injury during Week 11 of the 2007 season, but he was moved back to end once Umenyiora tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee on Aug. 23. Kiwanuka recorded 6.5 sacks in his first 10 regular-season games as Umenyiora's replacement, but he posted only 1.5 sacks in the Giants' seven games thereafter.

Danny Clark, who replaced Kiwanuka on the strong side, has one year remaining on the two-year, $4 million contract he signed on March 13. Clark could, however, move back to the weak side, where he played prior to Umenyiora's injury.

When asked if he expected to move back to linebacker, Kiwanuka said, "I have no idea about that."

The end zone: notes & quotes

Tuck offered no excuses for his late-season slippage. Tuck, who was nursing knee and lower leg injuries that were more restrictive than he ever revealed, recorded only half-a-sack in the Giants' final five games. "I'm pretty banged up, but it's football," Tuck said. "You're going to be banged up. If you're going into this game all smiles and nothing's hurting, then obviously you're not doing too much." Tuck registered 11.5 sacks in the Giants' first 12 games. . . . Head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese might not be sure about bringing back embattled WR Plaxico Burress, but Burress' teammates would welcome him back with open arms. "I think he will be back here next year," Jacobs said. "I think he should be. He's not a criminal. He doesn't have a bad bone in his body. He made a bad decision and he shouldn't suffer the rest of his career because of one decision. But that's the way life goes and you never know when you're going to get a second chance." . . . Missing 46-yard and 47-yard FGs during the Philadelphia loss probably ended the Giants career of 44-year-old K John Carney. Lawrence Tynes is healthy again, 14 years younger and has four seasons left on the five-year, $7 million contract he signed last offseason. . . . The Giants' offseason conditioning program is scheduled to begin on March 16.

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