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Giants punter Dodge handles spotlight's glare matter-of-factly

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After a relatively quiet rookie season, Matt Dodge is on the hot seat.

The New York Giants' punter was front and center on every sports highlight show Sunday night, with coach Tom Coughlin in his face, ripping him for failing to kick the ball out of bounds on DeSean Jackson's game-ending 65-yard punt return in the NFC East showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Dodge was criticized by some and vilified by others for a play that almost certainly cost the Giants (9-5) the division title.

Through it all, Dodge has stood tall. The seventh-round draft pick, who was given the job after veteran Jeff Feagles retired this spring, has been in front of his locker every day answering questions about the punt, his future, his mental state and life in general.

Everyone wants to know if Dodge can rebound this Sunday when the Giants try to clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Packers (8-6) in Green Bay.

"It's been a pretty normal week, except for the interviews," Dodge said Friday after practice. "I'm fine, though."

Dodge, who has averaged 45.3 yards punting with a mediocre 34.6 yards net, has acted as if nothing has happened. He has typically been one of the first players on the field at the start of practice and one of the last to walk back into the locker room. He even managed a laugh when there was a report that Coughlin was so angry after the game that he kicked Dodge out of the locker room and threw him off the team in one grand gesture.

"I couldn't believe people would think he would do that," Dodge said of Coughlin. "He's such a well-respected, such a great guy that I've grown to respect so much that that would be completely out of character if he would do something like that."

However, being a kicker leaves players exposed.

When a running play breaks down, sometimes it's impossible to figure out who missed the block.

As a punter, everyone knows who is at fault on any shank and flub. It's also obvious who is at fault when the coach stands on the field and screams at you after a punt is returned for a touchdown on the final play in regulation for the first time in NFL history.

"I'm a pretty resilient guy," Dodge said. "It's the kind of the thing, you put the human element in sports, stuff happens sometimes. And as much as I wanted to hit that out of bounds and give us a chance in overtime, it just didn't work out."

While his words were calm, Dodge was upset by the incident. He exchanged text messages with special teams coach Tom Quinn after the game, stating that he felt that he let down the team, the fans and even the city of New York.

Kicker Lawrence Tynes wasn't surprised.

"You think of the magnitude of that game and what it meant for the team and this city, and for it to be the last play is kind of why it sticks out," Tynes said. "If it would've happened in the second quarter, it probably would've been talked about but not as much. He definitely took it hard, which he should and we all should as team. It was definitely tough for him to deal with that with a game of that magnitude. But he's done a great job."

Dodge was encouraged by the number of teammates who offered words of encouragement this week, especially the guys on defense. They told him it was their fault for giving up 21 fourth-quarter points, and his punt was just the finish to a disastrous quarter.

It eventually got to the point where Dodge grew tired of receiving words of encouragement. As much as he appreciated it, he had to tell his teammates he wasn't going to hurt himself because of one punt.

"I've got a pretty good demeanor," Dodge said. "I don't get too high or too low. I knew when I was punting really well that it was never as good as it seems, and it's never as bad as it seems. We have a chance to win this game and get in the playoffs, and that's what we are going to do."

Long snapper Zak DeOssie says Dodge's maturity is beyond his years.

"He has right mentality," DeOssie said. "He is not going to let one kick define his whole career. He is a great punter and he is always getting better. There are going to be mishaps here and there, and he is just going to keep working."

Notes: PR Will Blackmon (knee) and backup DE Dave Tollefson are listed as out for Sunday's game. ... C Shaun O'Hara (foot), OTs David Diehl (illness) and Shawn Andrews (back), WRs Mario Manningham (heel) and Devin Thomas (hamstring), and DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) are all probable. ... With Blackmon out, either Darius Reynaud, Aaron Ross or Corey Webster will return punts Sunday.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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