EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. When the New York Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs last year, Ron Dixon set the tone.
The rookie receiver took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. The play seemed to take the life out of the Eagles, and the Giants coasted to a 20-10 win, their ninth straight over Philadelphia.
When the teams meet tonight at Giants Stadium, the chances of Dixon doing the same thing again aren't good.
Dixon didn't practice all week after spraining an ankle in the Giants' 15-14 loss to the St. Louis Rams. His status tonight is iffy.
Safety Omar Stoutmire, running back Damon Washington and rookie defensive back DeWayne Patmon, who has never returned in an NFL game, will handle the kickoffs if Dixon can't go.
Even if Dixon plays, the Giants' kickoff teams have been horrible all season.
What was an advantage for the Giants (3-2) last year has become a problem the Eagles (2-2) can seemingly exploit in a matchup that will determine first place in the NFC East.
The Giants' average starting position after receiving a kickoff is the 22.5-yard-line, the worst in the NFL. Their opponents' average starting point following a Giants' kickoff is the 32.1-yard-line, also the worst in the league.
Dixon, who also scored on a kickoff return in the Super Bowl, has averaged only 20 yards on 11 kickoff returns this season, a major disappointment after he averaged 34 yards in the playoffs.
"I don't know the reason," Dixon said. "I'm just sitting back and trying to do what I'm supposed to do. I'm waiting for it to happen."
Dixon admitted there is enough blame to go around for it not happening.
"We have to come together as a unit and, as far as me, I have to start going downhill instead of laterally," he said. "That's a difficult task. Your mind has to be set on that. I just have to be more of a downhill runner."
The closest Dixon came to scoring on a kickoff was a 43-yard return against New Orleans.
Linebacker Jack Golden said there were many reasons for the problems on the kickoff teams.
Fred von Appen replaced Larry Mac Duff as special teams coach.
"Teams are also kicking away from Dixon," Golden said. "A lot of teams saw what he did last year, and they don't want him to come out and set the tempo."