For the first time in a long time, they weren’t saying “Boo!”
Although if it were a Giants home game they probably would have been.
Victor Cruz played in his first game since October 2014 Saturday night and MetLife Stadium was engulfed in the once-familiar sound of fans serenading the popular wide receiver with a drawn-out chant of his last name. “Cruuuz!” they were able to yell, a sound that had not echoed through the stadium in nearly two full years. Even the Jets fans in attendance seemed to appreciate the significance of the moment and joined in.
“It felt great, man, just to be with my teammates and put this 80 jersey back on and get the love of the crowd and the people again,” Cruz said. “It felt like old times.”
But as inspiring as Cruz’s return was — overcoming a torn patellar tendon in 2014, a calf injury in 2015, and a groin injury earlier this summer that held him out of the first two preseason games — it was overshadowed by another deflating offensive performance by the Giants.
The go-nowhere unit managed just 47 total yards and only 5 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first half against the Jets starters, struggling to move the ball and keep Eli Manning protected long enough for the passing plays to develop. Then on the first drive of the second half, against the Jets backups, the starters went three-and-out as Ben McAdoo would not even trust them to attempt a fourth-down conversion with less than a yard to go.
That was the last snap of the game for the starters. The Giants went on to win, 21-20, with the Giants points coming on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Nassib to Tavarres King late in the third quarter and that duo again for an 11 yard pass play late in fourth quarter. Defensive end Kerry Wynn had a 73-yard interception return for a touchdown. Those are not the players the Giants want to see in the end zone.
“We didn’t do well enough,” center Weston Richburg said of the starters. “We didn’t give the quarterback enough time to throw and we didn’t open up enough holes. We have a lot of work to do.”
Not even Cruz could spark the Giants, as he had in some memorable games of yore against the Jets. In fact, he didn’t get much of a chance to.
Cruz played all 26 offensive snaps the Giants had in the first half, playing mostly in the slot but lining up on the outside a few times. His best route came in the second quarter when he ran an out-and-up against Buster Skrine and looked to have a step on the Jets cornerback. Eli Manning’s pass, however, was to the inside of the field instead of the sideline and Cruz had to spin awkwardly to get close to the ball. Skrine wound up batting it away. It was the only time Manning targeted Cruz in the first half.
He made his first and only catch on the first play of the second half, a quick 4-yard out pass from Manning.
“It’s good to get Victor back out there in some live action,” Manning said. “He had worked hard to get back to this point, so I’m happy for him and we will keep working, get on the same page and hopefully connect some more.”
It was a clearly emotional game for Cruz, who wore his old number 3 jersey to practice on Friday. That’s the number he wore as an undrafted rookie in 2010 when he burst on the scene with three touchdowns in a preseason game against the Jets. When the team came out of the tunnel Saturday night Cruz was back in his more familiar 80. He jogged to the far end zone and knelt in prayer for a few moments. When he came to his feet, Beckham was there to hug him and share a quick word. Cruz pointed to the stands, appreciative of their acknowledgment.
Cruz’s performances this week in practices and the game showed that he should have a place in the offense this season. Whether he will be ready for the start of the regular season no longer seems to be a question.
Whether the entire offense will be ready, however, remains one.