After the game, Manning told Cruz not to worry, because the wide receiver would make plays in the future.
The future arrived yesterday. Playing a larger role in the offense because of Mario Manningham's absence due to a concussion, Cruz caught touchdown passes of 74 yards in the first quarter and the go-ahead 28-yarder in the fourth in the Giants' convincing 29-16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Lincoln Financial Field.
"I thanked Eli after the game," said Cruz today, "for having that confidence in me and throwing that ball on the second touchdown (when he was closely guarded by two defensive backs). That took a lot of trust in me. A lot of time I spend with him watching film and looking at different things, it just proves that hard work pays off and I'm glad we got together like we did yesterday."
Cruz finished the game with three receptions for 110 yards to increase his season totals to five receptions for 127 yards. His two touchdowns lead the team. Those are also his career numbers, because Cruz did not catch a pass, nor was he targeted by Manning, in a rookie season shortened to three games by a hamstring injury.
Last week, Cruz had his first two receptions in a victory over St. Louis. He knew Manningham's injury would create an opportunity for him in Philadelphia. Coach Tom Coughlin helped Cruz take advantage of it by encouraging him and making sure the young receiver was ready.
"He said you have to be prepared, be in the film room and make sure you're prepared to play this game," Cruz said. "(He said), 'I know you can do it physically, but preparation-wise, make sure you're prepared and ready to go.' I came in extra watching film, I stayed at home watching film, film, film. I just watched these corners and watched how these safeties reacted to the run and watched the type of coverages that they played. So I felt like I was really prepared."
He proved that yesterday. Cruz played in the positions usually held by Manningham (though he didn't start, because the Giants opened the game with Stacy Andrews as an extra lineman).
"He did real good," Manningham said. "He went out there and did what he's supposed to do. We have a good group of wide receivers and we take pride in going out there and doing the right thing."
Late in the first quarter, the Giants faced a third-and-two at their own 26. Cruz lined up in the left slot, with Hakeem Nicks on the outside. At the snap, the two essentially switched positions, with Cruz running toward the sideline. He caught Manning's pass at the 34, where safety Kurt Coleman hit him high. The collision barely slowed Cruz, who broke into the clear when Coleman and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha collided. Nicks provided a late block and Cruz scored his first touchdown.
Cruz kept that football and plans to present it to his mother, Blanca Cruz, who lives in nearby Paterson, N.J.
The Giants trailed, 16-14, when Cruz put them ahead with a spectacular play in the fourth quarter. On second-and-eight, Cruz was covered closely by Asomugha and Jarrad Page. Manning threw a pass ball to the goal line, where Cruz jumped, outfought the two Eagles for the ball before stretching his arm across the goal line.
"I think Victor made two great catches and had some fantastic reads on the plays and really did a great job," Manning said. "I am really proud of him. He's a young guy that really made it happen."
"He trusted Victor on that last play when he drilled the ball and threw it down field and Victor came through for him," Coach Tom Coughlin said.
Cruz was both surprised and determined when the ball was in the air.
"During my route I was thinking, 'He's not throwing this way at all. There are two guys here, there's no way he's throwing it in this area,'" Cruz said. "But I turned, the ball was in the air and I had to make a play on it. I came down with it, so it worked out.
"It was either going to be my ball or I was going to bat it down and it was going to be nobody else's ball, and we were going to live to play another down. I was just fortunate enough to go up and try to create a little wiggle room for myself and go up there and make a play."
Cruz made the team last year as an undrafted free agent from Massachusetts. He first thrust himself into the spotlight when he scored three touchdowns, the first a 64-yarder, in a nationally-televised preseason victory over the Jets. In the hours after that game, Cruz received dozens of texts and voice mails from friends, family members and former college teammates. Last night, that large support group again contacted him.
"It was pretty much the same if not more," he said. "It was a regular season game and it meant a lot to our football team going against the Eagles. I got maybe 80 text messages and a whole bunch of twitter stuff going on."
Much of that correspondence focused not on his touchdowns but on the dances that followed them. Although predictions varied as to what style he was using, Cruz settled the issue with reporters today.
"Salsa – I got positive reviews, especially for Latin Heritage Month," Cruz said. "I definitely got a lot of stuff about that salsa. That salsa was pretty good and I got a lot of feedback from that."
So why didn't he keep the ball from the second touchdown?
"I was so excited I didn't know where the ball went," Cruz said. "I was just so excited. It was a fourth-quarter touchdown that put my team ahead - it was one of the most exhilarating feelings of all time."
Cruz got his coaches and teammates similarly excited with his big-play ability in the clutch. And he proved to himself that he can be an important player on the 2011 Giants.
"Other than those catches, I blocked very well yesterday and I did some good things in the run game blocking-wise," Cruz said. "I feel like I can do things. I felt good. My confidence level is up and I feel like we can do some great things. We have one of the best receiving corps in the entire league and I feel like we can do some things coming up."
*Manningham has not yet been cleared to practice, although he is feeling much better. He will undergo further examination before the team begins its preparations on Wednesday for this week's game in Arizona.
"I feel way, way better," Manningham said. "I got a lot of rest. My head got a chance to get clear."
*Coughlin cited the Giants' goal line stands in the second and third quarters as big turning points in the game. Instead of scoring touchdowns, the Eagles had to settle for a pair of 21-yard field goals by Alex Henery.
"The fact that we had the two goal line stands was huge," Coughlin said. "At one point we were down some numbers upfront but guys still hung in there and did an exceptional job. The two guys in the middle, Linval (Joseph) and Rocky (Bernard), were outstanding. Those were huge plays because it was an eight-point swing right there to be able to have them go for field goals rather than touchdowns."
*Coughlin was asked if the victory in Philadelphia signals a momentum change in the Giants' season.
"I am hoping it is," Coughlin said. "I think it is something that you have to build on. There are a lot of references that we make to parables and things of that nature. One of them is, if it clicks for someone, that is a starting point and the real challenge now is to look at it as it was a nice win but it is early in the season so we have to build on it."
*Coughlin said defensive end Justin Tuck suffered a groin strain in the game. Tuck also aggravated his neck injury against the Eagles. Asked if that injury is something that might linger, Coughlin replied, "It may very well, unfortunately."
*Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said after the game that he is not being properly protected by the officials and he cited a hit by defensive tackle Chris Canty as proof. Vick apparently suffered a hand injury on the play, though it was announced today that it was a contusion and not a fracture.
"He is entitled to his opinion," Canty said. "Obviously, he has been a little banged up so you can understand where he is coming from and how he feels but again, it is his opinion.
"I didn't think anything was wrong with the hit when it took place. I didn't think anything was wrong with the hit after looking at it again today. It is unfortunate that he got injured. We weren't out there trying to injure anybody. We are all competitors and we are all competing at the highest level. It is unfortunate for him. It is unfortunate for their football team but again, we are all competitors. We are all competing and playing hard."
Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said, "I understand his (Vick's) frustration. Nobody wants to get hit that many times. I just feel like if you're going to be the kind of guy who's going to be able to tuck the ball and run, once you put the ball away (the officials) can't protect you as a quarterback anymore. You have to give that right up. If he's going to stand in the pocket and continue to just pass the ball, then he would have an argument. Once you put that ball away, you're surrendering (that right)."
|Follow @Giants |