The Giants weren’t supposed to be here, one win away from the Super Bowl.
Not when their marquee offseason acquisition was David Baas. Not when they let Kevin Boss and Steve Smith go in free agency. Not when they released veteran offensive linemen Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert. Not when they lost 12 players -- excluding safety Chad Jones -- to season-ending injured reserve. And certainly not when they lost five of six and were 7-7 with games two remaining.
But a 99-yard TD catch by a nobody turned somebody named Victor Cruz in Week 16 against the Jets changed everything. In what will likely go down as the biggest play of the Giants’ season -- regardless of how it ends -- Cruz caught a short pass and shed a couple tackles before turning on the jets and giving the Giants a 10-7 lead over their New York rivals with 2:12 left in the second quarter. The rest, as they say, is history.
“It was huge,” said Cruz, who became the Giants’ all-time single-season receiving leader in 2011. “Anytime you can make a big play in the big game to kind of change the complexion of that game and the way we felt as a team is always huge.
“That is in the past and we have to worry about what is in front of us and take it week by week and we understand that play was good at the moment but we had a lot of plays in the season to get us to where we are.”
True. And lately, it’s been Hakeem Nicks -- not Cruz -- who’s making them.
Consider in the last four games -- all wins -- Nicks and Cruz have combined for TDs of 99, 74, 72, 66 and 37 yards.
“It is not really surprising,” Cruz said when asked about the emergence of the wide receivers. “We understand that we have that talent in the room and it just had to be put to the test. Everybody has just been able to prepare and everybody has been on the same accord in the receiving room. We understood that all it took was an opportunity and we want the burden to be on our shoulders and we have been able to execute and perform these last couple of games.”
Now just one game separates the Giants from a chance at their second title in five seasons. And Cruz is glad his team has a chance to get some revenge on the 49ers, who beat the Giants in the regular season.
Remember, it was Eli Manning’s fourth-down pass to Cruz that was batted down, ending the Giants’ hopes of tying the game late in the fourth quarter.
“We felt like the first time we played them, we had a chance to win, it came down to the end, it came down to the wire and we were one play away from winning that game,” Cruz said. “We understood that if we saw them again, it could potentially be a different outcome and we wanted that opportunity.”
Cruz wouldn’t say the Giants are unbeatable, “But our mindset is extreme at this point. We’re not going to be denied. That’s our mindset. I might be a little biased, but in our minds we can’t be beat. That’s the approach we’re taking week-in and week-out.”
Cruz has yet to salsa this postseason. Sunday would be a perfect time for his first.