Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (no.80) scores an 18-yard touchdown...

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (no.80) scores an 18-yard touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. (Sept. 8, 2013) Credit: AP

Eli Manning threw for the second-most yards of his career, Victor Cruz broke into three salsa dances and three Giants receivers had more than 100 yards.

And yet . . .

"Obviously that wasn't how I envisioned it," Cruz said of a dominating statistical performance in the Giants' 36-31 loss to the Cowboys. "I care about the wins, man."

It was the turnovers that nullified all of the good parts of the passing game. Two fumbles by David Wilson. Three interceptions by Manning. A muffed fumble on an unlucky bounce off gunner Trumaine McBride. The turnovers set up 23 points by Dallas.

But for the first time in a long while, Hakeem Nicks looked like a star receiver, catching five passes for 114 yards. Cruz, coming off his big contract this offseason, had five catches for 118 yards and the three scores. And Rueben Randle, the anticipated third piece of the receiving triangle, had five catches for 101 yards.

"I think that's good," Nicks said. "We're going to take it in stride and learn from it. The way we were stepping up at the wideout position and making catches all over the field, I think that's definitely going to be a learning experience."

"We were pretty much driving the ball down the field how we wanted," Cruz said. "It was those small things that coach Coughlin talks about that we couldn't capitalize on."

Manning completed 27 of 42 passes for 450 yards. His only game with more passing yardage was last year against the Bucs, when he put up 510. It was his fifth career game with at least 400 passing yards.

When it came to his big three targets, Manning was spot on: a combined 15-for-22 for 333 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a rating of 150.5.

All three touchdown passes to Cruz came at a time when the Giants were on the brink of being blown out.

The 70-yarder late in the second quarter pulled the Giants within 13-10. Manning stepped to his right to avoid a pass rush as Wilson missed a block and threw the deep pass to Cruz, who had gotten behind Will Allen and Morris Claiborne.

After the Cowboys took a 27-10 lead off the muffed punt, Manning hit Cruz for an 18-yarder.

Finally, Manning's 10-yard touchdown pass to Cruz capped an uber-efficient seven play, 90-yard drive, all of it coming through the air on six completed passes.

Cruz saw his first game action in almost a month. He'd been sidelined until last week with a bruised heel suffered early in the second preseason game against the Colts, and there was some concern that his timing with Manning might be off. It was not.

The performance also came after Cruz missed all of the offseason program negotiating a six-year, $46-million contract extension.

"I don't know if I can say this," Justin Tuck said of Cruz, "but I think we got him for cheap."

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