Ross Responds with Superb Second Half

Aaron Ross Photo: AP/Bill Kostroun

Sunday didn't exactly start as well as Aaron Ross could have hoped. But by the time the game ended, even the confident rookie couldn't have asked for more. Instead of starting his second career NFL game, Ross instead sat out the entire first half due to what the Giants were calling a violation of team rules.

"Aaron violated a team rule; that is between he and I, it is my call, and that is all I will say about that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

When questioned by TGI long after the game Ross opted to keep the reason for his punishment a secret.

"I'm going to leave that up to Coach," a smiling Ross said.

While most players had no clue what was going on, those somewhat in the know could only come up with educated guesses. The best guess seemed to be – and this is pure conjecture – that Ross missed curfew.

But the reason for Ross' discipline was certainly not the news on this afternoon. The way he responded in the second half is what really mattered.

"I was very pleased that he came back and played the way he did in the second half," Coughlin said.

Ross did not know how long he would be sidelined; just that he was going to be benched "indefinitely." That turned into two quarters. Then Coughlin made perhaps the wisest decision he's made in weeks: he inserted the talented rookie back into a struggling defense. What took place after that was a storybook ending for both New York's first-round draft choice and his team.

Ross, who finished with two solo tackles, began his superb second half with a touchdown-saving interception. With the Jets leading, 24-21, early in the fourth quarter and driving deep into Giants territory, Ross went up and made an acrobatic interception of a Chad Pennington pass that was intended for Jerricho Cotchery.

"He just keeps getting better and better and that's a good thing to see," Plaxico Burress said.

"He's a great player," Jeremy Shockey added. "The kid's going to be an exceptional player."

Ross' pick sparked a 98-yard drive to the game-winning score for Big Blue's offense. But Ross certainly wasn't finished yet.

After an exchange of punts left the Giants ahead, 28-24, with less than four minutes to play, Ross recognized something he had seen during the practice week, made a huge play and salted away the game in the process. Ross jumped a Cotchery route, picked off the pass and ran easily into the end zone with a 53-yard touchdown.

"We were watching film the whole week," Ross explained. "Coach Spags (Steve Spagnuolo) and Coach (Peter) Giunta were doing an excellent job breaking that film down for me. So, once I saw that formation and the receiver ran that out route, I was able to break on it."

When Ross came to the sideline Coughlin was there waiting to congratulate him. So, what did Coach have to say?

"Great job, that's basically it," Ross smiled. "Great job. I said, ‘thank you coach.' We hugged each other, and that was it."

Ross' teammates were pleased that the rookie had the mental strength to stay in the game while he was benched.

"The guy, I love him to death," said Sam Madison, who posted New York's other interception. "I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. I don't know what he did. But he stayed in the football game, which is all you can ask for from a young guy."

"He played like someone who deserved to be picked that high," Barry Cofield added.

Ross, who said he has never been benched on any level, chalked the whole thing up as a valuable learning experience.

"It was a mistake," he said. "I feel like I responded really well. Coach didn't treat me like I was out of the game. Every time the defense came to the sideline, I was in there with them getting the plays. I wouldn't say that I was out of the game; I just wasn't in the game out on the field."

Clearly Coughlin wasn't holding a grudge.

"Down the road that will be the best thing that will have happened for Aaron," he said. "He will learn from that and he will go forward."

Streaking: The Giants won their fourth consecutive game against the Jets and lead the regular-season series, 7-4. They have not lost to the Jets since 1993. The Jets won this year's annual preseason game and lead that series, 20-18-1.

Going the distance: The Giants scored their final offensive touchdown on a 98-yard drive. It was the most territory they covered on the way to a touchdown since Jan. 6, 2002, when they had a 99-yard scoring drive vs. Green Bay.

Century mark: The victory was the 100th of Tom Coughlin's career, including postseason games. In his 12 seasons as a head coach, Coughlin has 96 regular-season wins and four postseason triumphs. Coughlin is the 36th coach in NFL history with 100 victories (including postseason games).

Blanked: Amani Toomer did not catch a pass for the first time since Dec. 31, 2005 at Oakland. Toomer's team-record streak of catching at least one pass in 98 consecutive games (plus four postseason games) ended on Sept. 11, 2005 vs. Arizona.

Breaking the ice: Derrick Ward's eight-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the first rushing touchdown of his four-year career. Jeremy Shockey scored his first touchdown of the season on a 13-yard pass from Eli Manning late in the third quarter.

Quick out of the gate: The Giants did not surrender an opening-possession touchdown for the 19th consecutive regular-season game.

Out of action: The Giants' inactive players were wide receiver Steve Smith (shoulder), running back Ahmad Bradshaw, safety Craig Dahl, offensive linemen Adam Koets and Kevin Boothe and defensive linemen Manny Wright and Dave Tollefson. The third quarterback was Jared Lorenzen.

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