Victor Cruz sounded more like a fictional action hero than an NFL wide receiver when he spoke to reporters today in the Giants' locker room. "There were a lot of people saying thank you for… I guess I saved the day in some way, shape or form," Cruz said.
Indeed he did. Cruz caught Eli Manning's perfectly-thrown pass and sprinted down the field to complete a 77-yard touchdown with just 1:13 remaining yesterday to give the Giants a 27-23 victory over the Washington Redskins. Just 19 seconds earlier, the Giants had fallen behind on Santana Moss' 30-yard scoring catch.
Big-play hookups between Manning and Cruz have become regular occurrences in the last two seasons, but this one was truly special. It was still generating buzz today and will be long remembered as one of the best plays in Giants history. It was the longest game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes of a fourth quarter in Giants history.
Manning continued his remarkable success in late-game situations. It was the 22nd regular-season game in which he rallied the Giants from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie to win. He's also done it five times in the postseason, including two Super Bowls.
How, exactly, do he and his receivers get the job done?
"It's something we practice a lot and we practice the two-minute and you get excited for those moments that, 'Hey, we've got an opportunity to go win a game right here,'" Manning said today. "You hope that people rise to that occasion, they rise to that challenge and we do. We're not a team that gets nervous or we're going to get scared to be in that moment. It feels like when we are behind or we are down, we seem to excel, which is a great quality. I think we've got to take that same quality when we're ahead. You have a lead, you've got to protect it and we've got to keep that same mentality that let's attack, let's go, let's win the game right here."
Manning's late performance yesterday was particularly impressive considering he threw two second-half interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter that led to Redskins field goal. Four minutes after throwing that pick, Manning missed Hakeem Nicks on a third-and-one throw that would have given the Giants a first down and all but locked up the game. The Giants had to punt and moments later, Moss' touchdown regained the lead for Washington.
But as he always seems to do, Manning shook off his disappointment and made a terrific throw when the Giants needed it most.
"That's a very, very strong suit of his," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He came right out (after the second interception), I walked up to him and said, 'Ok, the next play is the most important play, forget that one.' I think he's already done that. He's already digested all of that and on to the next play and looks forward to it, actually looks forward to being in that kind of situation, which is a strong point."
"We have tremendous confidence in him and I know he has confidence in us that we're going to get the job done," Cruz said. "So having a guy like that who is calm under pressure and understands that he's just got to get the ball to his playmakers and we'll get the job done."
It does help to have receivers like Cruz and Nicks on his side. Cruz made the perfect decision to streak down the field after reading Washington's coverage. It was one of at least three options he had on the play.
"It could have easily just been a first down play and we would have chalked it up to the next play, but I don't get many opportunities for the middle of the field to open up like that and me run through nowadays," Cruz said. "So whenever I see that, I'm definitely taking advantage of it.
"Once I read the coverage and saw it open up and I saw the ball in the air…as soon as I caught it, I think I knew I was gone. It was a good feeling. I looked up at the Jumbotron to see how far back those defenders were and then I scored."
The Giants still couldn't relax, because Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III still had 1:13 to operate. But on Washington's third play, Chase Blackburn forced a fumble by Moss that was recovered by Jayron Hosley – fittingly, since Hosley was the defender covering Moss on the touchdown that could have sent the Giants to defeat.
But once again, Manning and his mates refused to let that happen.
*Ahmad Bradshaw was active even when he wasn't carrying the ball (12 attempts for 43 yards and a touchdown). He engaged in an animated conversation with Coughlin, slapped Cruz on the helmet after one play and seemed unable to sit still for a moment.
"I'm just saying run the ball," Bradshaw said. "Going on the field, a lot of my emotions kick in and I just want to help my team win as much as possible."
Coughlin and Bradshaw's teammates confirmed he is a passionate player.
"There's never been any question about Ahmad Bradshaw's toughness, his intensity level," Coughlin said. "He plays the game hard. You'd like to have everybody play as hard he plays, to be honest with you. He gives it everything he's got. You want people to recognize that fact, but sometimes you do have to control yourself and control your emotions, and he's working on it."
"Ahmad's like that all the time," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "It's who he is. We love him for that. We appreciate Ahmad. If he's not intense, I'd be worried."
*Coughlin said defensive tackle Chris Canty "did well" in his first game action of the season after being activated from the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
*Nicks had five catches for 53 yards in his second game back after missing three weeks with foot and knee injuries.
"I think he gets a little bit better each week," Coughlin said. "I think he's mentally better, but I don't know that he's always physically able to do the things he really wants to do or we want him to do. He seemed to come out of it okay."
*Asked whether safety Kenny Phillips and linebacker Jacquian Williams, who have been sidelined with knee injuries, might return next week in Dallas, Coughlin said, "We're going to see tomorrow, we'll see."
*Tight end Travis Beckum, who had surgery after tearing a knee ligament in Super Bowl XLVI, remains on the PUP list.
"The decision probably will be made this week as to whether or not he'll be able to practice or not," Coughlin said. "I'm not going to say right now. I think they need another day in the training room just to give us a full assessment."