Sunday, October 9, 2011 Updated: October 10, 10:36 AM ET
Cruz plays hero, goat in Big Blue defeat
By Mike Mazzeo Special to ESPNNewYork.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This season, drama has followed Victor Cruz wherever he goes on the gridiron.
And just as it has the past two weeks, drama found Cruz on Sunday afternoon.
"My mother told me, nothing can ever be simple with you," Cruz said after having the epitome of an up-and-down game in what ended as a 36-25 New York Giants loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
"You can never just have a good game, you always gotta have a crazy catch or do some fumble or something like that, like the play in Arizona. She's like, 'What's up with you?' I'm like, 'I don't know, Ma. I'm just trying to play and do my best out there.' Big plays like to follow me so I just try to do my best to help this team win."
Victor Cruz had a lot to celebrate, but left Sunday's loss with a bitter taste in his mouth.
There were moments on Sunday -- such as his 68-yard scintillating one-handed, tipped touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter and ensuing salsa dance that made the MetLife Stadium crowd yell "Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuz!!!!" or his 41-yard snag on the Giants' penultimate drive -- when Cruz did just that. But the 24-year-old unheralded second-year pro's eight-catch, 161-yard, one-touchdown performance will also be remembered for the plays he didn't make. For the gaffes that put the Giants where they are now -- with a 3-2 record -- instead of where they might have been, standing at 4-1.
With 10:49 remaining in the fourth, and the Giants leading 22-19 and facing third-and-7 from their own 20, Cruz caught an Eli Manning pass over the middle 2 yards shy of the first-down sticks. But in an effort to gain extra yardage, Cruz lost control of the football as he was being hit and fumbled. The Seahawks recovered, leading to a game-tying field goal.
"I grabbed it, but I wasn't able to quite bring it into my body," Cruz said. "I was just trying to get an extra yard, but the ball was kind of under me and it got ripped out. I'd never been in a [fumble] pile before, but it gets pretty real in there. It was just bad timing."
True. But the worst was yet to come.
The Giants had played a miserable game for the most part, making miscues on both sides of the ball, but were on the verge of going home with a "W." That is, until Cruz slipped.
New York was set up -- first-and-10 at the Seattle 5 with 1:27 left and facing a 29-25 deficit -- after Cruz hauled in what became his final catch of the day, a 19-yarder from Manning. A false start by Will Beatty on the next play was a bit of a slip up, but the Giants were right where they wanted to be.
Manning dropped back out of a shotgun formation. Cruz, slot left, ran a route to his left, but quickly broke back to the right. He lost his balance at the 7, and tried to contort his body back as the ball came out of Manning's hands. Manning expected Cruz to be there at the 5, but he wasn't. Cruz got his left hand on the ball and nearly corralled it, but to no avail.
Brandon Browner caught the deflected ball and scampered 94 yards down the right sideline to pay dirt. A once-raucous stadium had been reduced to dead silence.
The scoreboard read Seattle 36, New York 25. A minute and eight seconds remained.
The Giants were stunned.
"I thought I gripped it, but as soon as I went to kind of grip it in, I kind of got hit and it kind of bobbled up in the air, and I knew it was all downhill from there, because there were two guys there, and I knew one of them was going to pick it off," Cruz said.
And to think, just 11 minutes, 44 seconds earlier, Cruz didn't look like he was going to be the goat. He looked like he was going to be the hero.
Trailing 19-14 and facing third-and-13 at their own 32, the Giants desperately needed a first down. So, just like they'd done the past two weeks, they turned to Cruz. And what do you know? He came through.
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Under pressure, Manning lofted a pass to Cruz down the right sideline with two defenders draped all over him. All three players jumped. Kam Chancellor tipped the ball and it appeared as though he was going to make the interception. But Cruz got a piece of it with his right hand, made the one-handed snag and raced 68 yards down-field for six.
It may have been a gift a la David Tyree's catch in Super Bowl XLII, but oh what a gift it was.
"It was an out-and-up play," Cruz said. "We thought the safety would bite. I kind of went up and I thought Eli wasn't gonna throw it, but he threw it and I tried to make a high point play. It kind of got tipped up in the air and I kind of just kept my eye on it, had to twist around because it kind of went over my head. I kind of grabbed it and took it in for a touchdown."
It was supposed to be the one that gave the Giants the lead to stay. It was supposed to be the one that made the headlines: Patterson, N.J., product makes another brilliant play to save his hometown team.
But just when Cruz thought he'd endured enough drama -- his controversial "fumble" or what has become known as the "Victor Cruz rule" the week before in Arizona should have been enough -- there was more to come.
And unfortunately, it was the worst kind.
"Kinda," Cruz replied when asked if his gaffe on the final drive wiped away his brilliant play earlier the quarter. "Because that was for the game. There was less than a minute left in the game. We were driving, we were in there, and we potentially could've won the game on that very play. So it kind of erases it. You always want to win the game, and when you do something to negate that, it always wipes the good and you see the bad."
After the game, his teammates consoled Cruz, advising him not to dwell on it.
"They were just telling me it's not your fault. It's not that play that lost us the game. Penalties, things early on that need to be corrected," Cruz said. "Don't be too hard on myself. [It's] not one play that lost us the game."
This season, drama has followed Cruz wherever he goes: from his breakout three-catch, 110-yard, two-touchdown performance in Philadelphia; to his near screw-up in Arizona; to his up-and-down, hero-to-goat performance on Sunday.
And based on that trend, it doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon.
"He's doing well. He's doing really well. He made a lot of big plays and he's entertaining," Manning said. "But he's still a young player and he's still got room to grow."