EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jake Ballard has done more than enough this season to make the New York Giants forget about losing Kevin Boss to the Oakland Raiders in free agency.
The former free agent who spent most of last season on the Giants' practice squad took it a step farther this past weekend, coming up with "a catch" against the New England Patriots that had many remembering "The Catch" David Tyree had in the 2008 Super Bowl to help knock off the-then undefeated Patriots.
To be honest, Tyree's catch was much more spectacular and it was made in the pressure of the biggest game in football.
Ballard's 28-yard reception late in the fourth quarter, however, was just as important in getting the Giants (6-2) another stunning victory over New England.
"I am not surprising myself," Ballard said Monday. "I know that a lot of people who doubted me are surprised at where I am right now, but I am not surprised. I work hard every day and try to get better. I learned when I was 2 years old, just to keep pushing."
Halfway through the season, Ballard has 23 catches for 395 yards (17.2-yard average) and three touchdowns. Double those numbers and he is going to have better statistics than Boss did last year, when he finished with 35 receptions for 531 yards and six TDs.
Just as important is when Manning is finding Ballard — in clutch situations.
The 28-yard reception between two defenders came on a third-and-10 play from the Giants 39 with New York trailing 20-17 and a little more than a minute to play. It gave New York a first down at the 33 and Ballard capped the drive with a 1-yard TD catch with 15 seconds to play.
Coincidentally, he thinks it's the first time he has ever caught a winning touchdown pass.
"I always thought that I could be that guy," Ballard said. "I didn't have an opportunity in college and last year I just battled to get on the practice squad and just got better every week. I eventually moved up to active. I always had confidence in myself and all I needed was a shot or opportunity. I am trying to make the most of it right now."
Ballard seemed to laugh when asked why he didn't catch the ball more at Ohio State, noting the Buckeyes had several receivers taken in either the first or second round of the draft, and a run game that featured Beanie Wells and Terrell Pryor.
"Why change things up?" Ballard said. "I wanted to play and whatever I had to do to play on the team."
Coming into this season, there were many who felt general manager Jerry Reese failed to address the loss of Boss. The Giants came to training camp with Travis Beckum expected to be the starter, with Bear Pascoe and Ballard fighting to be the blocking tight end.
Beckum had a couple of nagging injuries in camp and Ballard started the opener. He has not looked back.
Running back Brandon Jacobs admitted after the game Sunday that he had doubts about Ballard heading into the season, but not anymore.
The son of a football coach, Ballard is downplaying his success.
"I wouldn't say I have arrived," he said. "Last year was hard. It was hard to be on the practice squad and you bust your butt every day during the week and you are not even traveling with the team or playing on Sundays. That is hard to do and I am glad that part of my career is over. But at the same time, I am happy to have that opportunity to be put through that. If I didn't have that, who knows what would have happened to me."
Looking back on the year, Ballard said he learned by practicing against guys being paid the big bucks that he could play with them. Now he is, and he's making the big plays, even in situations where he knows he is going to pay a price.
In the opening quarter, Ballard was nailed by Brandon Spikes on an 8-yard pass over the middle. The hit lifted him off his feet.
"Jake did get his bell rung or did get hit hard," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Anybody that's in this game and the ball's coming your way, it's going to happen. His attitude about it has been outstanding. He got back up, a little bit slow at first, but as the game wore on he continued to play at top speed and looked forward to the next opportunity."
Ballard said he wasn't even thinking about getting hit on his critical catch.
"People will get some shots at me and that is football," Ballard said. "You may get hit hard, but you just have to make sure you get up for the next play. That doesn't even come into my mind when I am running around. All I am thinking about is catching the football. As long as I catch it, I am not worried about what happens afterwards."