Victor Cruz took the short pass for a long ride down the right sideline, zipping down the field as if it were 2011 all over again. But when he reached the New Orleans 20, 40 yards from where the play began for the Giants, he got clobbered from the side by Kevin Crawley and the Saints recovered his fumble.
Eli Manning called it “the old Victor Cruz run-and- catch. It’s been a couple of years. He’s got to remember to hold on to the ball at the end.”
But at the end Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the 29-year-old wide receiver did remember to hold on to the ball.
On third-and-8 from the New Orleans 36, with the score tied and 1:49 left in regulation, Cruz went long down the right sideline, rose for the ball and held it despite the prying hands of Crawley. The 34-yard catch to the 2 set up Josh Brown’s 23-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Giants a 16-13 win and a 2-0 start.
In the opener at Dallas a week earlier, he caught the deciding 3-yard touchdown pass to put an exclamation point on his first regular-season game since Oct. 12, 2014, before injuries turned him into a Big Blue spectator.
“To make a game-winning touchdown catch a week ago and come in and make a pretty decisive catch on the sideline to pretty much seal the game, I mean, I can’t draw it up any other way,” Cruz said. “I think I’m getting better as the weeks go on, as practices continue.”
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas can see it, too.
“He’s playing great football right now,” he said, “and if anybody says he’s not how he used to be, well, I like where he’s at right now, I can tell you that much.”
The Big Three receivers — rookie Sterling Shepard (117 yards on eight catches), Odell Beckham Jr. (86 yards on eight catches) and Cruz (91 yards on four catches) — accounted for nearly 300 of Manning’s 368 passing yards.
“I think we can really do some things that have probably never been done before in a Giants uniform,” Cruz said. “ . . . The best part about all three of us is that we have no ego. All of us love each other . . . We want to see each other do well.”
Shepard did well, catching every ball thrown his way en route to his first 100-yard game as a pro.
“He’s going to be rookie of the year,” said Beckham, who uncharacteristically dropped a long pass at the 5 on the play before Cruz’s crucial catch.
Shepard’s one regret involved a 32-yard reception that set up another fourth-quarter field goal. The second-round pick slipped while cutting or he might have scored.
“I wish I could have it back, but I lost my footing a little bit,” Shepard said.
Although Shepard, Beckham and Cruz weren’t postcard-perfect, the threesome did tease the prospect of even better days to come.
“You have to pick your poison,” Beckham said. “Each and every one of them is lethal.”