By Sean Hartnett
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Jake Ballard will never be Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe or Antonio Gates. He simply isn’t blessed with that rare athleticism only seen in few receiving tight ends. Ballard may not be that kind of tight end but he’s undoubtedly a reliable target that Eli Manning can count on to make one or two big plays every week.
He’s not plan A or B in the Giants’ passing attack but when Manning needs a safe pair of hands, Ballard always seems to be the go-to guy. There isn’t anything flashy about Ballard but he seems to inspire his teammates to finish a touchdown drive after making a key reception.
The Giants were trailing the Patriots 20-17 with 1:07 remaining in the fourth quarter on their own 39 yard line. Manning needed to make a big play on third down as time and opportunities were running down. Ballard made a leaping catch as he was surrounded by Patriots’ defenders that crucially brought the ball into New England territory at their 33 yard line.
Seconds continued to tick down but the Giants received a stroke of luck as Sergio Brown made an unfathomable play, taking out Victor Cruz in the endzone. The pass interference call was obvious and gave New York 30 seconds to win the game.
Manning couldn’t connect with Ballard on the first try and Brandon Jacobs failed to cross the goal line as the clock read 19 seconds remaining. Ballard streaked toward the endzone sideline to give Manning a window to throw and came up with the game-winning touchdown reception. Safe hands, money in the bank as usual as Ballard fell to the ground.
He’s come a long way from the overlooked, undrafted free agent who signed on with the Giants to serve as a ‘blocking tight end.’ Everyone knows that Ballard is for real and will be continue to be a key element in the Giants’ passing game.
Ballard had to fight his way into the NFL, onto the Giants’ roster and eventually force himself into their starting tight end role. Now that he’s been given his chance, he won’t let go of it easily. He posted a quote from General George S. Patton on his Twitter account: NYG_J_Ballard85 that sums up his mentality toward the game of football. “I am a fighter, I fight where I am told and I win where I fight… George Patton… Great win Giants way to fight and win in Foxboro!”
It wouldn’t shock me if Ballard continues his 2011 pace. Throughout his career, Manning has relied heavily upon his tight ends and Ballard has done everything to keep throws coming in his direction.
Ballard may not be a Pro Bowl caliber tight end but what matters is that he has a knack for making the kind of big plays that can keep the Giants on track to win the NFC East.
Giants fans – how pleased are you by Ballard’s contributions? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.