Phillips is thrilled to be back in Dallas
Giants safety had game of his life against Cowboys last season, before going on IR
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.-- Throughout his never-ending rehab, during all the flights back and forth from New Jersey, Alabama and Florida, whenever his patience was tested -- and it was tested often -- Kenny Phillips often thought about Dallas.
It was there last year on Sept. 20 that Phillips authored the finest game of his young career. He practically single-handedly ruined Jerry Jones' grand opening of his Dallas palace with two interceptions, one of which caromed off Jason Witten's foot, and 10 tackles in what was his introduction to a national audience during a Sunday night Giants victory over the Cowboys.
"I never forgot the game because that was the last game I played in," Phillips said of the 33-31 win.
Five Things To Watch
1. Get Romo: Tony Romo is directing the third-ranked offense in the league. Dallas averages 400 yards per game, and Romo to Miles Austin is a deadly combo. The Giants have to get pressure on Romo, especially in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys (1-4) have incurred all their losses by seven points or less. In the fourth quarter of games decided by seven points or less this season, Romo has thrown two touchdown passes and three interceptions and has a passer rating of 69.7, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
2. Manning Time: Eli Manning has enjoyed some of the best games of his career against the Cowboys. He has thrown more touchdown passes (20) against Dallas than any other opponent. He threw for four touchdowns in a loss at Dallas in 2007. Last year, he passed for 330 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants' 33-31 win in Big D. Manning has to be sharp Monday night, and the offensive line will have to give him time against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense.
3. Mr. Smith Goes To Dallas: Wide receiver Steve Smith destroyed the Cowboys last season. In two games against them, Smith had 16 catches for 244 yards and one touchdown. He helped Jerry Jones open his new stadium last year with 10 receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown. Mario Manningham also had 10 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown in that 33-31 win. Manning will look for those two and Hakeem Nicks to shred the Cowboys' secondary again.
4. Ground Attack: The Giants can get their air game going by establishing the run. Ahmad Bradshaw had 133 yards rushing last week and is third in the league in rushing with 582 yards. He has eight carries of more than 20 yards, so the Giants will want to continue to give him the ball. Also, Brandon Jacobs has scored in three straight games.
5. The Last Stand: The Cowboys' season is pretty much on life support at 1-4, and the Giants can pull the plug. They play their hated NFC East rivals twice in four weeks. They won't say it publicly, but you know there are several Giants players who would love nothing more than to bury the Cowboys in what could be their last stand Monday night.
-- Ohm Youngmisuk
Three days after the best game of his professional life, Phillips was handed his greatest setback when he discovered that his second NFL season was over after just two games. The patellofemoral arthritis -- a deterioration of the cartilage between the kneecap and femur -- in his left knee worsened and required microfracture surgery.
Over a year later, the Giants are returning to Dallas and nobody will be more thrilled to be back than Phillips, who has not missed a game this season despite a degenerative condition in his knee that was considered by some as career-threatening.
The Giants safety, who has one interception, has started in all six games and has even overcome a sprained MCL to the same knee, which he suffered a few weeks ago.
"I tried to keep the past in the past," Phillips said. "But it has been a long haul. I am definitely not going to forget how much it took to get back to this point."
Phillips said the biggest pain he felt during his comeback hasn't been in his knee but rather in his head. The road back is one that is filled with speed bumps, yield signs and red lights, and Phillips' patience has been tested like never before.
For several months, Phillips was constantly told what he couldn't do yet and how he had to take everything excruciatingly slow. He couldn't even run for about six months after the September surgery.
"[The rehab process] was mind-boggling because you never know what to expect," said Rolle, who is one of Phillips' close friends and trains with him during the offseason in Miami. "You never know how you are going to perform or even when you are going to be healthy. You continue to rehab every day and night. It has been very stressful. It has been a full-time job."
Rolle let Phillips borrow his Accelerated Recovery Performance machine, which uses electrical stimulation to help speed recovery. Phillips uses it every night so he can stay healthy.
While Phillips works daily to keep his knee in playing shape, teammates check on him to make sure he remains sane.
"I know the mental battles you struggle with," said cornerback Terrell Thomas, who watched Phillips travel often to Alabama, where Dr. James Andrews operated on the safety's knee. "He works out every day here taking care of his knee. It is not something that is going to be fixed this year. It is something he has to do continuously for the rest of his career."
After the two-interception performance against Dallas, Phillips' career looked like it was going to take off straight to the Pro Bowl.
"I felt like I was growing into my own," the 2008 first-round pick out of Miami said. "I felt good on the field, I was able to see things I didn't see before."
But even as he had his best game, Phillips said he didn't really enjoy it the way many would think because his knee was constantly on his mind. He didn't feel a lot of pain at the time, but he knew his condition would worsen. He just didn't know it would happen so fast.
"I wouldn't call it pain but you can't celebrate because the knee might give out," Phillips said, laughing, when looking back on his interceptions. "I don't want to say [I was] worried but it was in the back of my mind. There were still a lot of things that I couldn't do as far as movement and it was kind of hard to go out there and have fun."
Thomas knew Phillips would be down after the safety learned his season was over. So the cornerback joked that Phillips sure knew how to go out with a bang.
"I told him, 'Man, you are the only player I know that will have a game like that, then retire. You did that for attention, I know,'" Thomas cracked. "It was a career-threatening injury but he never retired."
Now, Phillips returns to Dallas steadily regaining the form that helped him pick off Tony Romo twice a year ago. New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to use Rolle, Grant and Phillips together on the field often, and the three-safety look has helped the Giants become the second-ranked defense in the NFL.
Last week against Detroit, Phillips displayed his range by coming over to the right sideline and putting a huge hit on Calvin Johnson to force an incomplete pass. He had seven tackles and two passes defended on the day.
Following every game this season, Rolle asks Phillips how he feels. Phillips told Rolle that the Detroit game was "the best he has felt in a while."
The good feelings should continue Monday night.
"Great feeling," Phillips said of being back in Dallas. "Especially if we win. Real great. I feel good. I'm healthy and that is the biggest thing. I know if I'm healthy, I'll play well."
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