Giants' Matt Dodge still a 'confident guy'
"[My confidence] is good. I'm still here, obviously. I came in and my locker was still here, so that was good. I'm a confident guy," Dodge said on Monday afternoon. "Football doesn't define me. I know it's my job and everything, and I didn't get it done. But I still walked out with my head high."
Dodge, the Giants' rookie punter, became the poster boy for the Giants' epic collapse against the Philadelphia Eagles when he punted the ball to Eagles returner DeSean Jackson with the score tied and 14 seconds to go in the game. Jackson returned the ill-advised punt 65 yards to the end zone to complete a miraculous comeback for Philadelphia. Dodge was instructed to kick the ball out of bounds.
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Dodge said on Monday that he received plenty of support from teammates, family and friends in the aftermath of one of the worst losses in franchise history.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said that he hadn't had "much discussion" with general manager Jerry Reese about bringing in another punter this week before the Giants face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Dodge, whom the Giants selected in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL draft, said he recognized the magnitude of his mistake against the Eagles but never feared that his job was in jeopardy.
"It wasn't like [I] bought a plane ticket tomorrow to leave," he said. "But there's legitimate concern every week, this is a very high-performance job. So when you don't get it done -- and obviously on that last punt [I] didn't get it done -- by God's grace I'm still here."
Dodge has been wildly inconsistent all season. Those struggles have made him a lightning rod for criticism, especially considering he replaced the steady leg of 22-year veteran punter Jeff Feagles. Feagles retired in April but stayed with the team to help tutor Dodge. He said in an October interview with ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Dodge may benefit from a sports psychologist. Dodge has visited this season with a psychologist provided by the Giants, according to The New York Times.
Dodge's early-season struggles prompted the Giants to bring in veteran punter Hunter Smith for a workout prior to the Texans game in Week 5. The Giants could have cut Dodge at any point this season but Coughlin has shown patience and been supportive of Dodge throughout the year.
Dodge has been more consistent in recent weeks and performed well through the first 59:46 on Sunday. He hit three punts inside the 20 and one that could have been downed near the Eagles' goal line. He also hit a 50-yarder. But he said on Monday that he was rushed and didn't relax before hitting his crucial kick in the fourth.
"Sometimes you rush yourself," Dodge said. " ... So I just need to relax and [recognize that] it's nothing different just because it's at the end of a game. Just do what you've been doing all game."
Coughlin spoke with Dodge on Monday, telling him that he needed to forget about last Sunday's poor kick and prepare for this week's game against Green Bay. He also told reporters that he is still committed to Dodge.
"He's a young guy and he's forced to do this under fire," Coughlin said. "All of [the] things that can happen in the course of a 16-game schedule [to] a rookie -- any rookie, but in this case a rookie punter -- it's not easy. But he's going to have to learn from it."
Dodge also received support from several teammates on Monday. Most told him that the game should not have come down to a fourth-quarter punt with 14 seconds to play. The Giants allowed the Eagles to score 28 unanswered points over the final 8:17 of the fourth quarter, blowing a 31-10 lead.
"I told him this morning, 'Move on, it's over,'" said special-teams captain Chase Blackburn, emphasizing that Dodge wasn't alone to blame for the collapse. "We didn't tackle, we didn't cover, period."
Antrel Rolle added that he still had plenty of confidence in Dodge.
"In order for you to get to the top, you have to hit the bottom first," Rolle said. "We hit the bottom [Sunday] night and I know he felt like Ray Finkle ... but it's not on that. We're going to keep his head high because we know we're going to need him."
After Sunday's game, Dodge said he ordered five Domino's pizzas and spent the evening with his family, celebrating Christmas. His gifts? Giants fans might have wanted to give Dodge a lump of coal, but he said that he received a coffee maker and a painting of a creek near his home in North Carolina. He avoided all of the sports highlight shows on Sunday evening and was able to sleep well after being "emotionally drained" over the day's events.
Dodge, who says he has a "pretty good demeanor," came into the Giants practice facility on Monday morning with a surprisingly positive attitude.
"This isn't the first time I've been under scrutiny," Dodge said. " ... I love coming to work every day. I love trying to get better. I'm very passionate about being the best punter I can be and one day being one of the best punters in this league. You're going to go through stuff like this. You've just got to learn, 'I've got to bounce back.'"
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
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