Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
CHICAGO - The numbers are impressive by any measure, but especially so because of all that has gone wrong around him. With the 0-5 Giants sinking to depths not seen since their dark days of the late 1970s, Victor Cruz has been a remarkable exception.
Even as Eli Manning struggles through the worst start of his career with 12 interceptions, and with the running game at a virtual standstill, Cruz has compiled numbers more befitting a team that's unbeaten, not winless. With 31 catches, he's fifth in the league with 473 receiving yards, tied for seventh with four receiving touchdowns, and his average of 15.3 yards is first among wideouts with at least 30 receptions.
But the only number Cruz is focusing on these days is 1.
"The only stat I care about now is the win-loss column, and I want to get this thing rolling and do whatever I can to make that happen and get that first win,'' Cruz told me Tuesday after the team's final full practice leading up to Thursday night's's game against the Bears at Soldier Field. "Whatever I can do to make that happen, that's what I'll be doing.''
If only the players around him were performing as well, the Giants wouldn't be the embarrassment of the NFL right now. Despite all of the chaos, Cruz has been stunningly effective. He has been the best player on the team, and it's not even close.
"He's a great player,'' fellow wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "The guy does some amazing things out there.''
The production is all the more dramatic after Cruz missed the offseason conditioning program because he couldn't agree on a new contract until shortly before the start of training camp. Cruz received a $46 million extension, the richest deal ever for a Giants receiver, but still considerably less than the $60 million the Dolphins gave free agent Mike Wallace.
It was a source of some frustration for Cruz, whose $7.6 million yearly average isn't in line with many of the league's elite outside receivers. Cruz is considered more of a slot receiver, but he also has lined up outside; his 69-yard touchdown against the Chiefs on a "go'' route came when he lined up outside and beat cornerback Dunta Robinson.
While Cruz's first priority is getting his team wins and not compiling individual stats, he does admit being labeled a slot receiver doesn't really do him justice.
"I always told myself that I didn't want to be categorized as just a slot receiver,'' he said. "I wanted to be someone that plays inside, outside, where the coaches want me to play, I can play that position. It just so happens that the majority of my plays come from the slot position, but I feel like I'm versatile enough to play inside, outside, whatever the case may be.''
What separates Cruz from other notable slot receivers is his flat-out speed. He can beat you on the quick slant, he can beat you on a seam route down the middle, or the post route or the simple "go'' route, where it's man on man, speed against speed. Cruz usually wins those battles.
In only his third season as a regular, Cruz already has seven touchdown catches of 70 or more yards. That's only two fewer than the all-time leader in that category -- none other than Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest player in league history.
Cruz doesn't want to hear any of it, especially any comparisons to Rice.
"I just don't want that in my head,'' Cruz said. "I don't even want to think about it. When my career is done, I'll look at all those lifetime stats.''
For now, he'll just take the one stat that has eluded the Giants this season: a win. And he'll do everything in his power to make it happen.
"I want to make the big play to get this thing done and get this team turned around,'' he said. "Whatever I can do, I put that on my shoulders.''
Chances are Cruz will do his part. Now it's up to everyone around him to stop making the killer mistakes and start making plays like No. 80.