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Big Blue choosin' a bruisin' back

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Brandon Jacobs ran with full force and bulldozed some poor linebacker or safety, Justin Tuck and his other defensive teammates would celebrate as if they had just collected a sack or game-turning interception.

"As a defensive player, the best thing I can see is another defensive player getting his butt whupped," Tuck said. "I love to see offensive players with a mentality that most defensive players have -- I am going to hit them in the mouth.

"When Brandon was healthy and running like that, the defense would be the first off the bench to celebrate when he was coming back to the sideline."

On Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tuck hopes the New York Giants' defense will be partying on the sideline like it's 2008, when Jacobs flattened opposing defensive players on his way to 1,089 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Coach Tom Coughlin has reinserted Jacobs as the starter ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw in an effort to curtail the team's turnover epidemic. The coach also is hoping the lineup change can spark a rushing attack that will need to perform to help offset injuries that have ravaged Eli Manning's corps of wide receivers.

With Hakeem Nicks (leg) and Steve Smith (pectoral) both out for at least the next two weeks, Jacobs will have to put the muscle back in the running game while Manning gets new receivers such as Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas acclimated to the offense.

Tuck believes Jacobs can return to the form that made him one of the most intimidating running backs in the game in 2008.

"We really need that out of him," Tuck said. "He has the ability to set the tone not just on offense but for this entire team."

It's been a topsy-turvy year for Jacobs, who had difficulty adjusting to life as a backup to Bradshaw. At the start of the season, an emotional Jacobs bristled whenever asked about his new role and often took out his frustrations on the media. During the second game of the season, in Indianapolis, he tossed his helmet into the stands while attempting to fling it in frustration on the Giants' sideline, drawing Coughlin's ire.

A frustrated Jacobs talked to Coughlin and finally came to grips with a much more reduced role. He said he gained clarity from the meeting.

During the Giants' five-game winning streak, which ended with a Nov. 14 loss to Dallas, he thrived as the secondary runner, scoring at least one touchdown in four straight games and rushing for 75 and 78 yards in consecutive games.

His attitude brightened, and he began to run with more purpose and less hesitation -- something he drew criticism for last season when he gained 835 yards and five touchdowns while playing injured.

Now he's back in the starting lineup after Bradshaw lost his fifth fumble of the season this past Sunday against Philadelphia. Jacobs has no idea how many carries he will receive or how long he will remain the starter.

But he says it doesn't matter to him anymore. On Wednesday, a humble Jacobs said in the locker room that the team is at its best with Bradshaw running the ball and that this move is, in his mind, only temporary.

Instead of trying to keep the starting job, Jacobs was already saying that Bradshaw deserves it back.

"I know he is going to still be a big part of us winning, and if we want to win, we'll give him the ball," Jacobs said of his best friend, who has rushed for 867 yards and five touchdowns this season. "If we want to win, hand it to him, and he is going to get it done."

Tuck believes that one of the biggest players in the locker room grew up after being demoted earlier this year. Losing the starting job deeply affected the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs.

"He wasn't playing well and he will tell you that," Tuck said of Jacobs' performance last season. "[But] sometimes to get to your potential, you have to step back and look at things.

"One of the best things that happened to me was getting hurt in '06 and stepping back, and you realize how much you love it and miss it. When you step back from it and realize how lucky you are to be in that position, you look at things in a different light."

Jacobs' perspective has changed, much in the way Bradshaw can switch directions with one cut. On Wednesday when Coughlin revealed the lineup change, Jacobs didn't talk about having an opportunity to hold on to his old job. The power back actually admitted to not knowing what the thinking was behind the move and made it clear that it's Bradshaw's job even if he rushed "for 200 yards in each of these games."

"It is temporary because he is that much of an explosive runner and I want to see him in there myself," Jacobs said.

Bradshaw had a tough time swallowing the change, according to Coughlin. But the NFL's fifth-leading rusher this season refused to say as much when repeatedly asked.

Jacobs knows exactly how Bradshaw feels. After all, he went through it during training camp and at the start of the season.

"We are trying to get this thing back on the right track and get rolling toward the end of the season," Jacobs said. "All the other stuff that is going on, I'm not really for it and I don't really care. I just want to win games. This is my sixth year in the league, and it is to the point where I just want to win."

It's likely that Bradshaw, who has averaged 18.5 carries a game to Jacobs' 7.8 this season, will still get the ball in the fourth quarter.

"That's where he got the bulk of his carries, at the end of games," Manning said. "He should maybe see it as a good thing to wear down the defense and all of the sudden you bring in a different look, so it might be the spark we need."

The Giants hope that spark starts with Jacobs.

"I want to be able to go and set our team off, set the stadium off and have a good mixture going to the game that nobody can stop us," Jacobs said. "Teams should not be able to stop us from running the football. I don't give a damn who they are."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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