Roger Lewis Jr. has spent the first half of his rookie season with the Giants as part of the chorus line. He’s been a background singer, one who keeps the harmony going but isn’t asked to hit the high notes. That distinction, that responsibility, that spotlight had fallen to more highly credentialed players such as Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz.
On Monday night, however, the understudy moved upstage.
Cruz was inactive for the game against the Bengals because of an ankle injury he suffered last week, and it was Lewis who replaced him. In his first chance with such a large role in the offense, Lewis said his goal was simply to keep up. That’s what he did last week, catching his second career TD pass minutes after Beckham found the end zone in the first quarter of the win over the Eagles.
“I kind of feed off of guys like Odell,” Lewis said. “When he scored, I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go get me one.’ . . . I am watching Odell, not even just in the game, even in practice. I have watched every rep that Odell had ever done in practice, Victor Cruz has ever done in practice. I am watching those guys and learning from those guys every day.”
Cruz, coming back from knee and calf injuries that sidelined him for nearly two full years, had been healthy throughout the regular season until the ankle injury. This was the first game he missed this season. The injury still is not considered serious, and Cruz is expected to play next week against the Bears. The Giants decided to allow him to heal fully and be available for the stretch run rather than risk aggravating the sprain.
It’s a strategy the Giants employed even before the ankle injury, when Cruz’s snaps were diminished. That led to an increase in Lewis’ snaps last week. And even when Cruz returns, Lewis probably won’t go all the way back to anonymity.
“He was a guy that we thought highly of through the scouting process,” Ben McAdoo said. “We knew he was going to have a lot to learn coming from the type of [spread] offense that he came from. He really works hard at learning and works hard on the practice field. If you work hard in the meeting room, on the practice field and you have the nice skill set that he has, it’s nice to see a guy that works out the way he works and the success as early as he’s having it.”
Lewis and Shepard give the Giants the most productive young receiver duo in the NFL. They are the only team in the league to have multiple rookie wide receivers with at least two touchdown catches each. When both scored last week, it was the first time the Giants put two rookie wide receivers in the end zone since 1987, when they had replacement players during the strike. The last time the Giants did it with two full-fledged members of the team? Dec. 12, 1954.
Lewis did not have a perfect performance last week, dropping two passes to go with his touchdown, but he’s shown a knack for the end zone. He has three career catches, two of them scoring plays.
“I think I just add a playmaker,” Lewis said. “That is it. My playmaking ability from college is still adjusting in the NFL because it is kind of different. I want to be able to be a playmaker.”
He’s getting his chance.
Perhaps it is poetic justice that Cruz, the patron saint of undrafted receivers, was spelled by another undrafted, overlooked commodity in Lewis.
“With me being an undrafted guy, I’m going to have to play with a chip on my shoulder and be able to make plays,” he said. “That’s it.”
Notes & quotes: Running back Shane Vereen (biceps) ran before the game and remains a candidate to be the one Giant who can come off injured reserve this season . . . Cornerback Leon Hall, who spent eight seasons with the Bengals, was inactive for the Giants.