By Peter Gleason
It has been a year since Giant wide receiver Victor Cruz’ career came crashing down at the Linc.
Eli Manning doesn’t like to remember it, but the quarterback of the Giants just can’t forget either. One moment, Cruz was open against the Eagles, seemingly set to spur a comeback. The next, he was a crumpled, crying heap in the end zone.
“It wasn’t a hit or anything,” said Manning. “I just saw him jump up. And then I saw him lying on the ground, kind of holding his leg. You never like to see a guy lying there grabbing at a knee.”
That Sunday a little more than a year ago was the night when Cruz shredded his knee, bringing his season to an end — and sending the Giants into a tailspin that shattered their entire year.
And as the Giants prepare for Monday night’s return to Philly, they still haven’t forgotten the debacle.
If ever a season came down to one single moment, this was it.
“I was looking up at the big screen jumbotron… I remember he got carted off,” linebacker Mark Herzlich recalled. “We had guys step up and fill in, but Victor was the spark that we relied on and loved to have on the field.”
Cruz had tried to be that spark in that game, tried to vault the Giants into contention on a night they’d struggled throughout. Emotions had run high that week and trash talk had run up and down I-95, the Eagles PR staff taking shots at Manning’s interception rates, and Jason Pierre-Paul firing right back at Philly.
And then the Giants had stepped onto the field and fallen apart, allowing Philly to score on its first four drives and build a 20-0 halftime edge.
“They jumped out to an early lead and we weren’t able to counter that,” said Herzlich. “We did not answer their initial first strike. We didn’t stop them.”
With 9:35 left in that game, Cruz had been trying to strike back. An interception had set up the Giants with golden field position, giving them an opportunity to leap back into the game. Cruz was open as open as he’d been all night, running free in the right corner of the end zone.
The pass was on-target. The leap was small. The catch was easy.
And then receiver Rueben Randle, on the other side of the field, saw Cruz collapse to the turf.
“I didn’t know how bad it was at that point,” Randle said. “But it was very shocking. I can tell you that.”
Shell-shocked by the loss of Cruz, the Giants put up little fight against the Eagles, collapsing in a 27-0 shutout loss. It was the first of seven consecutive setbacks, a backbreaking stretch that fueled a 6-10 horror story of a season.
“We were a little discombobulated,” said defensive end Damontre Moore of the Giants’ state after that Eagles loss. “I think it might have killed morale a little bit.”
Don’t expect Monday night’s game to fuel anything similar, no matter what happens. Sure, the Giants arrive with that same 3-2 record, and that same feeling of invincibility, driven by a three-game winning streak in which each victory has been a display of grit and toughness.