Out of the shadow of Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett began his first season as a Giant with touchdowns in each of his first three games.
He was relishing the opportunity that he never really had in Dallas while playing behind the future Hall of Famer.
Opponents, however, took notice to his fast start this season and his numbers dropped, as he caught just five passes for 41 yards in Weeks 4-6 without finding the end zone.
"As you begin to put a few pelts on your belt, people play harder against you and they do more things to try and stop you," said tight ends coach Mike Pope, who is in his 30th year coaching in the NFL. "After he had a score-a-game early in the year when he was able to get off the line of scrimmage a little more freely because they really knew who he was, but hadn't hurt anybody significantly. After that first month, people started playing him with much tighter coverage, battering him as he's coming off the line of scrimmage and made his job harder."
But putting up fantasy football stats isn't the only role of a tight end, nor is it the primary role in the Giants offense. Bennett knows this better than anyone and reminded everyone to take a step back when people noticed his season-high 79 yards in Week 9 against Washington.
Bennett, at the time, said he actually thought he played better the game before in San Francisco, taking pride in helping the Giants rush for 149 yards in the convincing victory. A week before that, Ahmad Bradshaw carried the ball for 200 yards himself.
But now the offense is sputtering in both facets and the Giants need all the weapons they have for the home stretch.
"I say to him, 'If you don't catch many balls and you're not a threat, and they don't ever hit you, then you're probably not going to be around for too long,'" Pope said of Bennett, who is tied with Hakeem Nicks for second on the team with 36 catches. "It is a badge of courage when they start beating you up and trying to keep you from releasing; that's what they do to the better players in this league. He's starting to get some of that kind of treatment. That part of it has made it a little more difficult. It's the player's and the coaching staff's responsibility to do whatever we can to try and continue to keep him as a weapon, which he certainly has been, particularly down in the scoring zone."
Meanwhile, the Giants recently activated tight end Travis Beckum, who spent the first eight weeks on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. Returning from his knee injury suffered in Super Bowl XLVI, Beckum is working back up to speed as the Giants prepare for the Packers, the team which he broke a 67-yard touchdown against in last year's regular-season matchup.
"He still isn't back to playing full speed," Pope said. "When you have a major surgery like that, you only get confidence back from playing. Hopefully we'll get him involved more because he is a weapon out in space. He can run, he can catch and he's a good blocker out in space. We're going to analyze all of that in this next week and see how we can best go play our next game."