David Baas had a peculiar football experience last Sunday: he watched his team play on television.
Baas is more accustomed to playing football than viewing it on autumn Sundays. He had played in 67 consecutive games – and started 45 in a row – before a neck injury forced him to miss the game against Seattle on Oct. 9. But at least he was able to attend that game. When the Giants played in New England, Baas stayed home with a knee injury and mimicked millions of fans by sitting in front of a television and rooting for his favorite team as it staged a stirring comeback to defeat the Patriots.
“It was extremely weird,” Baas said today. “Not traveling with the team was weird. We went over to my neighbor’s house and sat there watching. It’s weird, because you’re watching in a whole different way. Everybody else is in the excitement and I’m watching the linemen. You see stuff and you call it out before and (his friends asked), ‘How’d you know that?” It’s my job. This is what I do.
“But it was totally weird. I really didn’t like it. But I understand I just wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to hurt the team.”
Baas will have another unique personal football experience this week, but he insists this one won’t be as bizarre. The 6-2 Giants will be in San Francisco to play the 7-1 49ers, the team for whom Baas played his first six NFL seasons before joining the Giants as a free agent on July 29. But Baas - whose knee has improved enough that he practiced today and expects to play Sunday - insists seeing 49ers red and gold as enemy colors for the first time won’t be strange.
“I think it will be kind of cool,” Baas said. “It’s going to be great, I think. It’s going to be exciting. I don’t think it’s going to be weird. You’re going to see those guys you played with and I’m happy for them. Even though I’m happy for them, it’s a football game. It’s going to be a battle.”
And Baas is happy to be engaged in it. He’s not accustomed to sitting out. Before this year, he missed more than one game in a season only as a rookie in 2005, when he sat out three.
Baas hurt his neck late in the second quarter at Arizona on Oct. 2. He stayed off the field in the second half of that game and the following week vs. Seattle. Baas played against Buffalo on Oct. 16. He hurt his knee against Miami in the next game, but missed only two plays. But the knee was sore all last week and Baas was unable to practice or play.
Today he worked on a limited basis, but Baas is optimistic he will play in Candlestick Park.
“It felt pretty good,” Baas said. “Definitely an improvement. Just been getting better and I am happy to be out there and have a chance to play against a very good team and go see those guys again. It will be fun and I am just getting my knee right so I have that ability to.
“I think there is a good chance (he will play). It all depends how it reacts. We will see tomorrow. Had some of the pounding today but I have high spirits and I am preparing like I do every week to get out there and play.”
The 49ers had a losing record in each of Baas’ six seasons in San Francisco, including a 6-10 mark last year. But under new coach Jim Harbaugh, the Niners have matched that victory total during their current winning streak and stand at 7-1 overall.
“I am not surprised,” Baas said. “I think that Harbaugh and his crew are doing a really good job. You knew it was going to happen eventually.”
Baas was a free agent after the 2010 season. He considered re-signing with the 49ers, but each side decided to separate and Baas is happy to be a Giant.
“We kept the door open,” Baas said. “We had all of our options available to us. It just didn’t work out and it’s the nature of the business. I look forward to going back out there. Hopefully the stadium doesn’t fall over on me or anybody else, but it’s going to be good to go back out there and it’s definitely going to be a tough challenge. They are doing things differently and it is working for them, but we have to focus on what we need to focus on here and take that game plan there and execute it and that’s going to be what determines the outcome.”
Baas, of course, has insights on the 49ers that no other Giants player can offer. He has shared them this week when appropriate.
“When there’s time for me to chime in - like he has this type of rip rush or he’ll hold you here –
something like that, I’ll chime in,” Baas said. “I made a couple of lists of things they do so I can hand those out and keep everybody educated on their personnel and how they do things over there. We know they have a 3-4 defense. We have seen those before. And we know they do some things that are different but not surprising to us. We had people run those types of schemes against us before. It’s just things we have to be prepared for, but it’s nothing like we are shocked to see.”
Baas is very familiar with the man who will be lined up across from him all day, because he and 330-pound nose tackle Issac Sopoaga butted heads in practice for six years.
“He’s a big, strong guy – kind of a freak of nature,” Baas said. “He’s very athletic for his size. It’s a good challenge. All those guys are playing their technique well. They’re making tackles and not giving up ground. That’s why they’re doing as well as they are.
“It will be good to talk to those guys. I’m sure there’s going to be some conversations on the field.”
Baas will enjoy them, not just because they’ll be with former teammates, but he’ll relish returning to action. Watching games on television is no fun when you should be playing in them. And Baas missed one of the most exciting Giants games in memory in New England, where Eli Manning twice led the Giants on long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, the last ending with the game-winning touchdown pass to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds remaining.
Sitting in his friend’s house in suburban New Jersey, Baas was confident his team would pull out the victory.
“We’ve been great in two-minute,” Baas said. “Eli’s been outstanding. The guys are going to protect like all hell. You just knew they were going to go down there. It was awesome, because there was no doubt they could do it. It was definitely exciting. My heart was pounding a little bit, but you knew they could get it done.”
So did Baas jump out of his chair when Ballard scored the go-ahead touchdown?
“No, I stayed seated,” Baas said. “I didn’t want to further injure my knee.”
Now that’s a good teammate.
*Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks, the Giants’ rushing and receiving leaders, did not practice today as the Giants began preparing for the 49ers. Both players missed the New England game, Bradshaw with a fractured bone in his foot, Nicks with a hamstring injury.
“(Bradshaw is) better than he was last week, that’s for sure,” Coach Tom Coughlin said. “He is walking around. If he keeps getting better, we’ll see (if he can play).”
Although Nicks didn’t practice, he did make progress.
“(I) ran today,” Nicks said. “Got up to full speed. It felt good. Going to stick to the plan of more and more each day. Tomorrow, I’ll do a little bit more. No setbacks, and that’s always a good sign.”
Nicks said he ran in a straight line and also practiced his cuts.
“I did a little bit of everything just to test it out and see where I’m at,” Nicks said. “Going to do some individual (drills) tomorrow and see where I’m at. Hopefully, by the end of the week everything’s going good and still looking good for me.
“(I’m) definitely happy. I ran yesterday. Ran today. Still no setbacks. No pain afterwards. It’s looking good.”
Rookie receiver Jerrel Jernigan (hip) also missed practice. He touched the ball for the first time in his career Sunday on a 19-yard kickoff return.
In addition to Baas, three players were limited: Defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee), cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot) and tackle Stacy Andrews (back).
Fullback Henry Hynoski (neck) practiced fully.
*Tackle Kareem McKenzie is the only Giant to play at Penn State and thus the only one to play for Joe Paterno, who announced today he will retire at season’s end in the wake of the burgeoning scandal at the school. McKenzie is hopeful the circumstances of the legendary coach’s exit will not tarnish the accomplishments of his 61 years at the school.
“I don’t think it really does because what I know of the situation, it doesn’t involve Joe,” McKenzie said. “Again I don’t know the whole situation and we are going to have to wait to see what happens but I would like to think that all he has done for the university and for the football program, it’s just sad that things turned out this way.”
Coughlin was asked about Paterno at his news conference.
“He has had a fabulous career,” Coughlin said. “I have admired him for a long, long time. I was a player on a (Syracuse) team the first year he became a head coach. I have admired him for a long time.”
*Coughlin said he received an email today from Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, former commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq and a fierce Giants fan. Odierno congratulated Coughlin for the victory in New England.
“He doesn’t hide the Giants fan part very well,” Coughlin said.
Friday is Veterans Day and Coughlin lauded the men and women who serve in America’s armed forces.
“It is a privilege to honor our veterans and the military all over the world today,” Coughlin said. “The men and women defending our country, it is always an honor for us to be in their presence. I think we need to focus as a country, recognizing the tremendous contribution that these people make to our security, our way of life and the continuation of our way of life. I did receive an email from General Odierno this morning and it reminded me of him and the incredible job and responsibility that he has or had when he was in charge of Iraq, if you will. I find that being in the presence of these young people representing our country is an honor for us. They always want to express it the other way around and you have to stop them and say, ‘We are honoring you. We are thanking you,’ and I don’t think we can do enough of that as a country.”
*The 49ers have won six consecutive games. The last time the Giants played a team with a winning streak at least six games long was the 2007 season finale, when they hosted the 15-0 New England Patriots.
*Jason Pierre-Paul’s 9.5 sacks are the most by a Giant through eight games since Michael Strahan had 14.0 in 2001 – the season Strahan set the NFL single-season record with 22.5