EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The return of Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks to practice Thursday after missing the previous day with a sprained left knee could only bode well for his on-field rapport with quarterback Eli Manning.
Nicks, whose 53 catches for 629 yards and three touchdowns is solid but not spectacular considering his first three years of work with the team, says he expects not only to be healthy enough to face the Ravens on Sunday, but to add some jump to his season.
"I feel like one day it can all turn around," Nicks said. "I have to keep the right mentality and keep on working hard. I'm a man of faith, so I can't feel like I'm going through all this for nothing. Some good has got to come out of it."
Nicks battled a toe injury at the beginning of the season, and then added the sprain in Week 2 against Tampa. He hasn't been the same game-breaking receiver since, as his timing with Manning and his overall speed suffered.
"I feel like I'm just off (with Manning) by a hair," Nicks said. "But that's going to change."
He failed to break a completion last week for big yardage despite having beaten a Falcons defender handily. He barely missed another throw that he could have laid out for, but chose not to.
"That one was in diving range, but I thought I could run up under it and get to the end zone," Nicks said.
Two other key Giants didn't practice Thursday for the second straight day: running back Ahmad Bradshaw and defensive end Justin Tuck. Bradshaw, nursing a sprained left knee that kept him out of last week's game, remained inside the trainer's room taking treatment. Tuck, who injured his shoulder against the Falcons, watched practice from the sideline on a stationary bike.
Coach Tom Coughlin said he expected Tuck to get back to work Friday, and added that if Bradshaw can take some snaps he would probably be available for action Sunday against Baltimore (9-5).
Tuck was talking about the Giants' sagging pass rush Thursday, but what he said could have applied to the general philosophy for this week's "backs-to-the-wall" game against the physical Ravens.
"Honestly, we have to stop worrying about what people write and what people say about our pass rush," said Tuck of a once-vaunted asset that has produced just 32 sacks this year compared to the 48 of a year ago. "We have to stop looking for answers and instead start focusing on the answer, which is beat the guy in front of you."
Regardless of the unit, beating the Raven in front of him will become a vital part of Sunday's game. The linemen are in general agreement that matching Baltimore's physicality is key, especially considering the 34-0 shutout loss to Atlanta involved everything but that.
Baltimore sports a tough running game behind Ray Rice, as well as a rugged defensive line that features tackle in Haloti Ngata. The Ravens could be getting back 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis from a Week 6 triceps injury. Ed Reed is one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the league.
For the defense, stopping Rice will mean gaining advantageous field position and putting quarterback Joe Flacco in third-and-long situations, the better to rejuvenate the Giants' flagging pass rush.
"Stop the run," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "That would help a whole heck of a lot to get our pass rush going."
There are easier things to do, however. Rice, with nine touchdowns, has averaged 4.5 yards per rush in a 1,031-yard season. Being stout up front, especially in the middle, is where shutting him down starts. That task begins with the linemen defeating their offensive counterparts up front.
"It starts with winning your individual matchup," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "You have to do this in terms of team as well as individual. You have to make sure you do your job, do what's required of you, and don't do somebody else's job. You have to trust your teammates to do their job. Trust one another and be accountable and responsible."
The offense dealing with Ngata and pass-rushing linebacker Terrell Suggs could be made tougher if center David Baas (hip and shoulder) and right guard Chris Snee (hip), both missing practice time this week, are not up to speed.
"We have to play physical no matter what game it is," Baas said. "We didn't do that against Atlanta. This week, it has to be different.
The Ravens already have clinched a playoff spot for an NFL-best fifth consecutive season, but they have lost three straight. The Giants, mindful that a loss in Baltimore combined with Washington and Dallas victories and a Seattle win or a tie will end their playoff hopes, know the physical battle goes beyond individual issues like sacks and totals yards.
It's a matter of out-muscling the opponent this week.
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