On a day that saw the game come down to the last four minutes with a Giants lead, the similarities to last year’s Giants team were ever present. However, this Giants team is vastly different. After shelling out the most guaranteed money in team history, General Manager Jerry Reese’s biggest addition might be a healthy Victor Cruz. It was 700 days since the wide receiver last stepped on an NFL field. Seven hundred days since the brutal injury in Philadelphia cost him the rest of the 2014 season and factored into the loss of his 2015 season. During that time, Showtime followed his comeback in the documentary “I am a Giant: Victor Cruz,” which was his biggest challenge in the NFL since trying to make the Giants as an undrafted rookie.
It’s in the nature of a Giants fan to relish their all-time greats. Cruz fits into that category for many New York fans. He was a major factor in their Super Bowl run in 2011. It will be forever etched in Giants lore on Christmas Eve 2011 as Cruz went 99 yards past New York Jets defensive backs Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie for a game-turning touchdown. That play displayed everything that made Cruz successful in the league. It helped earn Cruz his five year, $43 million dollar contract. However, after waiting almost two years and hearing countless times Cruz would be back Giants fans became weary. Wanting to stay a Giant, Cruz took a pay cut in order to do so.
Maybe all that nostalgia for times past clouded the Giants decision makers when Cruz suffered a groin strain to start training camp in 2016. Possibly, it was flashes of his old self in minicamp that kept him penciled in as the starting slot receiver on the depth chart. Whatever it was, the doubt started to pile up as he sat out the first two preseason games. Cruz finally returned in the third preseason game, catching a four yard pass against the Jets and he played the following week against New England.
Then, it was a 10 day wait for the start of the regular season. For Cruz, this was 700 days coming. All the adversity and doubt had accumulated and Cruz had prevailed. On September 11, 15 years after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Cruz stepped onto the field in Dallas. A native of New York suburb Paterson, N.J., Cruz wore special cleats as a tribute to those who died on 9/11 along with teammate along with fellow wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Neither player was fined by the NFL.
Dallas received the ball to start the game, forcing Cruz to wait 15 plays and nearly 10 minutes to play his first NFL snap since 2014. In his comeback, he caught his first pass for five yards with 2:31 left in the second quarter. He followed that reception with a 23 yard gain four plays later to help the Giants secure their second touchdown before the half.
The second half started slow for the Giants offense. Any momentum they had scoring a touchdown before the half was sapped out of the offense. An early interception thrown by Eli Manning on a miscommunication with rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard provided the Cowboys with their first touchdown. Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott ran through the Giants defense for the rookie’s first career NFL touchdown, which gave Dallas a 16-13 lead. New York would continue to stall offensively, while Dallas padded their lead with a field goal.
The Giants received the ball with 10:12 left in the fourth quarter. It started with a penalty to push the Giants to a 1st and 15. Running back Shane Vereen helped New York down the field and to the goal line. Following two incomplete passes to Beckham Jr., New York faced a third and goal on a must-score drive. This is where Manning has missed Cruz for the last two years. His ability to do the dirty work down by the goal line allowed Manning a sense of safety. In typical Cruz fashion, he found his way open in the end zone. Manning found his once missing and beloved receiver and connected with him in the end zone. What came next was 700 days in the making. Cruz’s infamous salsa dance was back and it was a beautiful sight for sore Giants fans eyes. Cruz was finally back and he proved he could still play at a high level.
But this touchdown was more than just Cruz’s first in nearly two years. This was ultimately the touchdown that sealed the game for New York and gave new Head Coach Ben McAdoo his first NFL win. In true Giants fashion they would make the fans sweat it out. The $200 million defense did their job in the late part of the game and Dallas receiver Terrance Williams failed to step out of bounds on what ultimately became the final play of the game. The script for Cruz’s return could not have been written any better after so many let downs.