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Richie James has rediscovered love for football, regained key role with Giants

Wide receiver/punt returner is making plays as Giants make playoff push

Houston Texans v New York Giants
Richie James
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

New York Giants wide receiver/ punt returner Richie James understands the ups and downs of both an NFL season, and by extension an NFL career.

James has been up, down, and is now up again for the 2022 Giants. Sort of how things have gone for the 27-year-old since he was a seventh-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2018 NFL Draft.

At the beginning of the season, James was the Giants’ most reliable wide receiver. After three games, he had 14 receptions for 147 yards (10.5 yards per catch). Then, James became an afterthought in the offense, catching just six passes in the next six games. In Week 8 against the Seattle Seahawks, he played just four offensive snaps. In Week 9 against the Houston Texans, he never saw the field on offense.

James was the Giants’ punt returner for the first eight weeks of the season, until a pair of lost fumbles that contributed to a 27-13 loss to the Seahawks cost him that job.

“It was simple. It was football, part of the game,” James said in the Giants’ locker room on Tuesday. “I made mistakes, and they were the consequences. But I don’t look at that any more. Just messed up.”

James is now firmly back in the Giants’ good graces.

Over the past five weeks, with rookie Wan’Dale Robinson sidelined for the season, he has 22 receptions. He now leads Giants wide receivers with 42 receptions, far more than his previous career high of 23. He is also back returning punts, with Adoree’ Jackson sidelined due to a sprained MCL.

“Unfortunately, some things had to happen that [I] didn’t want to happen so I get an opportunity to get back on the field,” James said. “But, regardless of that, I’m still going to work hard in the situation, regardless.”

James’ play was a key part of the Giants’ critical 20-12 victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday night.

As a receiver, he had four catches for 42 yards. On the Giants’ 18-play, 97-yard touchdown drive James had clutch third-and-9 and fourth-and-9 receptions for first downs.

“I made plenty of plays in my career. I’ve made game-changing plays plenty of times. Obviously it goes unnoticed when you’re just a backup per se, so of course it’s nice to catch any ball. No matter if it’s first down or third down,” James said. “To me it’s it’s a catch. So that’s my job.”

“He’s been really big for us,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “He made some key plays the other night on critical downs. He’s just extremely consistent day-to-day. You know exactly what you’re going to get from him. His approach has been really good. As a quarterback, you like working with those guys. He’s stepped up time and time again. He deserves a lot of credit.”

As a punt returner, James had a season-best 23-yard return after Washington chose to punt on fourth-and-12 from the New York 34-yard line.

On that punt return, with Commanders’ punter Tress Way kicking into a short field, James took a bit of a risk returning the ball from the Giants’ 7-yard line.

“Well, really it was all reaction. I saw the ball was pretty high, there was a really short field. So I already knew what he was trying to do, he was trying to down [it] inside the 10,” James said. “But I looked outside to my right and I saw the gunner and he was going behind me and I looked and I know the rule of the backside gunner is to come head up, but he was way outside still. So I took a peek at the inside guys and they were still 15-20 yards away. So I was like, I’m gonna take this and get some yards.”

James signed with the Giants during the offseason after an up-and-down career with the 49ers.

James was part of a San Francisco team that reached the Super Bowl at the end of the 2019 season. He caught only six passes that season, though, and while he did return 33 punts and 20 kickoffs and said that he was “just there” and added only that “my situation was kind of awkward in San Francisco.”

James caught 23 passes in 2020, and returned 34 punts and four kickoffs. Just when he might have truly been establishing himself, he missed the 2021 season with a knee injury.

The year off wasn’t easy, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise for James.

“It was tough because I’ve been playing football for over 20 some years and that was my first time missing the whole year,” James said. “I had the chance to take a full year off and let my body recover and my mind get right. And football became a thing I just fell in love with again.”

Giants’ fans will love the reason James is in New York. His only other offer this offseason came from the Philadelphia Eagles.

“No disrespect, I didn’t just didn’t want to be in Philly,” he said. “They’ve got great coaches, great players, but I didn’t want to be in Philadelphia. Why not be in New York?”

It certainly hasn’t been perfect for James in New York, like the team itself in 2022. Still, the Giants have been fortunate to have him.