Victor Cruz continues rise to stardom
The Cowboys will hear that sound all offseason long -- a haunting cry that will nestle into their souls and keep them up at night, lest they slip back into a nightmare.
Two-hundred-and-fifty-five players were drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft. Victor Cruz was not one of them. He signed with the Giants and fought his way onto the team, before an injury ended his season. He then battled into the offensive plans again in 2011.
He made his first two career catches in Week 2 of this season. Over the next 14 games, he would haul in 80 more passes and compile more than 1,500 yards.
Sunday night, he was unstoppable. Seemingly every time Eli Manning dropped back to pass in a key situation, he looked for No. 80. And, try as they might, the Cowboys simply could not keep him from making plays in a 31-14 Giants win (box | recap).
In the first quarter, on a 3rd-and-1, he burned Terence Newman -- who, incidentally, played the type of hands-off defense usually saved for the meaningless Pro Bowl. Cruz ran a simple out route, caught a pass from Manning, then turned up the left sideline and sprinted to the end zone for an early 7-0 Giants lead.
Cruz then set up Ahmad Bradshaw's TD in the second quarter by coming up with a 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 from the Dallas 10.
Then, just as the Cowboys decided to show up, Cruz delivered the biggest play of the night. The Giants' lead had been trimmed from 21-14, and Manning found himself in trouble on 3rd-and-7. But New York's QB somehow spun from pressure and threw a jump ball up for Cruz -- a play so much like Manning's famous Super Bowl highlight against the Patriots that you couldn't help but notice the similarities.
And, just like David Tyree did, Cruz got inside of the deep coverage, leaped and came down with a 44-yard reception. That one led to a Lawrence Tynes field goal that put the Giants back up 10 and allowed the New York players and fans to breathe again.
"He's done a great job -- working hard, understanding this offense, knowing how to get open," Manning said of Cruz. "He's a big-play guy. He's done a great job making big plays for us."
A Hakeem Nicks touchdown and a couple of defensive stops later, the Giants were NFC East champs, bound for the playoffs and a home date with Atlanta.
The Giants earned this win, and they earned the division title. While Dallas struggled to find its footing on the Sunday night stag in e, New York stormed out and grabbed the bull by the horns. Before Dallas knew what was happening, it was 21-0.
Give some credit to a wounded Tony Romo, who shed the glove protecting his injured throwing hand at halftime and pulled his team back within seven in the fourth quarter. This season never went the way Dallas expected, with some of the blame falling on injuries and a rash of second-half letdowns.
But the Cowboys' failures ultimately came down to two losses to the Giants. Dallas had a 34-22 lead on its division rivals late in a Week 14 game, before watching Manning rally Big Blue back.
The 'Boys did not have a chance to blow the rematch, because the Giants never gave them much life. The first half was a total clinic, with New York's defense schooling Dallas' offensive line, and Manning and company nearly scoring at will.
Things got a little dicier for the home team after halftime, with Romo threatening to turn the tables and cap off a rally. That is, until Cruz skied in the air and pulled one away from Orlando Scandrick -- the latest moment of heroism from New York's amazing second-year receiver.
"(This season has) been amazing," Cruz said, "to come in, relatively unknown trying to find a spot on this team ... it's been incredible."
It's hard to imagine New York winning Sunday night without him, just as Week 16's win over the Jets might have been a different story for the Giants had Cruz not turned in an incredible individual effort on a 99-yard touchdown.
The Giants have other playmakers on the their roster: Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Bradshaw, to name a few. But ever since that Super Bowl XLII win on Feb. 3, 2008, they've been struggling to find a real go-to guy, someone who can rise above the occasion and steal the moment for himself.
Call it great scouting, luck or whatever you want, but New York finally appears to have found that player in an undrafted wide receiver out of Massachusetts.