EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The first football game in the New Meadowlands Stadium produced a happy memory, a break out performance and a scary moment for the Giants.
The nuts and bolts are the Giants defeated the Jets, 31-16, in the teams' annual preseason game in the stadium opener.
The show stopper was rookie free agent Victor Cruz, who matched his jersey number by scoring the game's final three touchdowns, on receptions of 64 and 34 yards from Jim Sorgi and five yards from Rhett Bomar. The first score was a one-handed gem that should get multiple plays on highlight shows for several days.
What the Giants would prefer to forget was a collision that left Eli Manning bleeding profusely from a three-inch laceration on his head that required 12 stitches.
He did, however, easily walk off the field under his own power and an examination showed no signs of a concussion. He was x-rayed at the stadium. The x-rays were negative. Manning was sent home by the team's medical staff.
"I feel fine," Manning said. "I feel normal. The play was my fault. We had a run play with an option to throw a fade that I thought I might try, but Brandon (Jacobs) was coming right up the middle. Sometimes you make a mistake and you get hit in the head. It's preseason. You learn from it. I'll be back as soon as I can. It's really not an injury. Nothing serious. I really feel like I could go back out and play right now if I had to."
Manning was hurt with 10:40 remaining in the second quarter. On third-and-one from the Jets' five-yard line, Manning received the snap from Shaun O'Hara and took a step back when Jacobs collided with him, pushing the quarterback's helmet up on his head. Manning was then hit hard from behind by linebacker Calvin Pace. His helmet flew off and Manning caromed face first into safety Jim Leonhard as his helmet rolled 10 yards away.
"There was a run called and Eli just went for the fade ball with the wide receiver without really making any type of an alert or changing the play," Coughlin said. "So he was just going to go ahead and communicate with the receiver and throw the ball. The only problem was that the play that had been called was a middle burst by Brandon Jacobs and Brandon thought he was getting the ball."
Manning stayed on the ground for a moment, then immediately headed for the bench area. Television replays showed blood dripping from his forehead. Giants vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes put a towel to Manning's head to slow the bleeding. After Manning was attended on the field for several minutes, he walked off the field with Barnes and other members of the team's medical staff.
Manning, who completed four of eight passes for 77 yards, was replaced by Jim Sorgi.
The quarterback's injury did not overshadow the show put on by Cruz in the second half. The rookie from Massachusetts finished with a team-high six receptions for 145 yards and those three scores.
Cruz turned in the play of the night when he gave the Giants the lead for good at 17-16 with 2:29 remaining in the third quarter.
The Giants had just taken possession on their own 36 after a Nick Folk missed field goal try. On first down, Sorgi lofted a pass down the left side for Cruz, who was blanketed by cornerback Dwight Lowery. No problem. While somehow warding Lowery off with his right arm, Cruz thrust out his left arm, caught the ball in stride at the Jets' 40 and sprinted to the end zone for the touchdown.
"I made a move to go outside and he threw it up and I'm running for it," Cruz said. "I didn't think I was going to get it because the DB was right on me, but the ball came down and I kind of stuck my hand out late and it stuck and I just tucked it in and ran."
When Cruz reached the Giants' sideline, he was greeted by several coaches and a large group of players. But he was just getting started.
On the Giants' next possession, Cruz made another outstanding catch, again victimizing Lowery, this time for a 21-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, on second-and-four from the 34, Cruz beat Drew Coleman and scored his second touchdown with another nice grab on a pass from Sorgi.
Cruz still wasn't finished. With 2:24 remaining in the game, he completed his hat trick with a five-yard score to cap a 10-play, 67-yard drive.
"It's a crazy feeling just to be at home and to put up a performance like this is just really great," Cruz said. "It is just so surreal right now. My heart is beating so fast. I just try to go out and work hard every practice every day. I have been given a great opportunity and I am just trying to take advantage of the situation that I am in. I attribute this to hard work and trying to understand the plays and getting the mental part down first, and then just going out and working on the execution and trying to make plays. The guys around me just did a great job tonight."
Coughlin strongly praised Cruz in his postgame news conference.
"Cruz really has had an outstanding camp," Coughlin said. "He has worked his tail off every day, he's made a lot of plays this past week and the writers who were following practice have asked and kind of smiled when we mention Victor Cruz and he was truly outstanding tonight.
"He's an everyday guy. He does everything. He's on special teams. He's on scout teams. But he emerged during the week as making some spectacular catches and one day, as a matter of fact, I said to the media people that we should celebrate the guy. Why not? Why not write about him? He had a great day at practice – write about him. And I'm sure you guys did. He had a good game and I'm glad for him that he did. Real good guy."
The Giants also scored on Jacobs' one-yard touchdown run and Lawrence Tynes' 32-yard field goal.
For the Jets, Mark Sanchez threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith and Folk kicked field goals of 36, 22 and 36 yards. Folk was also wide right on a 46-yard attempt.
The Giants trailed, 13-10, at the end of a first half that was notable primarily because of Manning's injury.
Manning was hurt at the end of the first series in which the Giants moved the ball, advancing from their own 25 to the Jets' 14-yard line. The big play was a short pass that Manning flipped to Ahmad Bradshaw, who broke free of Leonhard's tackle attempt and motored to the 14 for a 51-yard gain. D.J. Ware's eight-yard run set up the third down from the five on which Manning was hurt.
On the next play, Tynes' 32-yard field goal tied the score at 10-10 with 10:40 remaining in the half.
The Giants then put their second-team defense on the field, but the Jets stayed with their starting offense. The result was a nine-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard Folk field goal that put the Jets back ahead, 13-10, with 3:55 left in the second quarter.
The Giants trailed, 10-7, at the end of a first quarter in which they made a big defensive play, but generated little offense. They totaled six yards of offense in the quarter, and only because Manning's first completion was a five-yarder to Ramses Barden on the final play.
After the Giants lost four yards on the game's first series, the defense got the ball back almost immediately. On the Jets' second play, Mark Sanchez's pass for LaDainian Tomlinson was intercepted by safety Antrel Rolle, who returned the ball 59 yards to the one-yard line. Jacobs scored the touchdown on a third-down run off right tackle.
"It was actually Deon Grant that made the play," Rolle said. "He read the route, made a play on the ball. I was just the guy that was fortunate enough to get the interception. It was a great call. We executed it well and it just allowed me to be in the right spot at the right time."
The defense was not as unyielding the second time it took the field, as it surrendered a 13-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Sanchez's four-yard touchdown pass to Smith. The Giants were penalized on the play for having 12 men on the field. Cornerback Terrell Thomas, who was lined up opposite Smith, left the receiver and tried to cross the field to the Giants' sideline before the ball was snapped. He didn't make it, in part because the ball was snapped quickly to Sanchez, who passed immediately to the uncovered Smith with 3:07 remaining in the quarter.
"We had a miscommunication on the personnel on the field," Coughlin said. "They had a corner with the goal line people. We had goal line people out there. We didn't get the corner on the field and the safety came running out. So at one point we thought there were 12 and then there were 10n. It was a botched play. It will be good experience though."
The Giants went three-and-out, but the most damage in the series was done on fourth down, when Andre Brown missed a block that enabled Eric Smith to block Matt Dodge's punt. The Jets took possession at the Giants' 14-yard line. Tomlinson's first-down touchdown run was nullified by Robert Turner's holding penalty, so the Jets settled for Folk's 36-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
*First-round draft choice Jason Pierre-Paul picked up his first sack, dropping Sanchez for an eight-yard loss in the second quarter. Pierre-Paul blew by veteran tackle Damien Woody on the play. It was the Giants' only sack.
"It was lovely. It was really great," Pierre-Paul said. "I wanted to get a sack really bad tonight. The coaches made a nice call. And I know that even though I am not a starter, it was against their starters, which made me feel really good."
*Linebacker Chase Blackburn was helped off the field and then driven into the locker room late in the third quarter. He was diagnosed with a sprained knee.
*The Giants had significantly less than a full squad in uniform for the game.
Players who didn't suit up for the game included guards Chris Snee (knee) and Rich Seubert (hand), wide receivers Steve Smith (groin), Sinorice Moss (groin) and Tim Brown (leg), cornerback Corey Webster (glute), safeties Kenny Phillips (knee) and Michael Johnson (back), linebacker Keith Bulluck (knee), tight ends Kevin Boss, Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard (all hamstrings), plus offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, who is on the physically unable to perform list recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
The absences resulted in the following changes to the starting lineups: On offense, Hakeem Nicks started for Smith (Ramses Barden started at the other wide receiver spot), Bear Pascoe played tight end, Guy Whimper played right guard, David Diehl moved from left tackle to guard and William Beatty played tackle. Defensively, Jonathan Goff was at middle linebacker and Aaron Ross stepped in for Webster at left cornerback.
Also, Bradshaw started at running back.
*Michael Strahan, the Giants' career leader in games played and sacks, watched the game from the team's sideline.
*The Giants broke a three-game preseason losing streak to the Jets and now trail in the summer series, 22-19-1.
*The Giants are 3-4 against the Jets in the preseason under Coughlin and 13-12 overall. They host the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday night.
*The Giants are 13-12 in the preseason under Coughlin.
*The Giants rushed for 61 yards on 21 carries; Jacobs and Bradshaw combined for one yard on seven carries.
*Backup linebacker Bryan Kehl led the Giants with seven tackles (three solo). Gerris Wilkinson had a team-high six unassisted tackles.
*The Giants' game captains were Aaron Ross, Bear Pascoe, Dave Tollefson and Zak DeOssie.
*This game was the first in which an NFL experiment with an innovative clock operation technology known as the Precision Time System was in use. The technology allows NFL game officials to stop and start the official stadium game clock on the field in addition to the clock operator in the booth, which reduces lag time and allows for more precise timing. The four officials equipped with the precision-timing belt packs were the field judge, head linesman, line judge and side judge. All four of these officials were positioned on the sidelines, providing four unique vantage points in critical areas of the playing field. The Precision Time System works via a radio transmitter in the belt pack, which is approximately the size of a smartphone.
Each official has the ability to start or stop the clock using a button on his individual belt pack, along with the clock operator in the booth. The first person to press the button, be it one of the four officials or the clock operator himself, will start or stop the official game clock.
The technology will be tested at each of the four 2010 preseason games at New Meadowlands Stadium, including Giants home games Saturday vs. Pittsburgh and Sept. 2 against New England.