Victor Cruz loving every minute of Giants’ playoff push


When Victor Cruz became Victor Cruz, it was in December, when the weather turns colder and every football game can carry playoff implications. Who can forget his Christmas Eve game against the Jets in 2011 when his 99-yard touchdown reception helped trigger a magical Super Bowl run?

Cruz has missed that.

Injuries have cost him his past two football Decembers. First there was the gruesome knee injury in October 2014. Then there was the calf injury that ruined his comeback season before it started and caused him to miss all of 2015.

That’s why Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh, the first of four crucial games this December, might mean more to Cruz than any other Giant. He knows first-hand that playing meaningful football in December — heck playing football at all — never can be taken for granted.

“It’s been a little while,” Cruz said Friday when asked about playing football in December again. “December is when you have to dig a little deeper.”

The Giants (8-3) had just concluded their final full practice before Sunday’s pivotal game against the Steelers (6-5) at Heinz Field. A win became even more imperative after the division-leading Cowboys edged the Vikings 17-15 on Thursday night at Minnesota. The Giants need to beat the Steelers to add more juice to next Sunday’s showdown against the 11-1 Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.

But first things first. The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl, and no one knows better than Cruz that if the Giants are to have a chance at another ring this year, they will need a strong December.

“The guys understand that all our goals are intact and that we have to continue to push forward and stay the course to achieve those goals,” he said. “Everybody understands where we’re at and the level of attention to detail it’s going to take for us to get where we want to go.”

Things have changed since Cruz last played in December. He’s no longer the featured receiver dominating defenses. Odell Beckham Jr. is now the main man on the receiving corps and rookie Sterling Shepard has taken over the slot position.

Cruz, the outside receiver opposite Beckham, ranks fourth on the Giants in receiving with 27 catches for 462 yards and one touchdown, a far cry from his best years in 2011-2013 when he averaged 1,210 receiving yards and nearly eight touchdowns each season. Meanwhile, Shepard has 44 catches for 476 yards and five TDs to rank second in receptions behind Beckham, who has 65 catches for 915 yards and eight scores.

Where Cruz once excelled as the Giants’ slot receiver, it’s Shepard’s job now.

“We like Sterling there,” head coach Ben McAdoo said Friday. “We do have confidence in Victor if we feel like we need to play him in there. We feel like he’s done a nice job outside for us.”

After missing two straight Decembers, Cruz isn’t going to complain. The Giants will carry a six-game winning streak to Pittsburgh. The playoff push feels like it has just begun, with games against the Lions, Eagles and Redskins (on Jan. 1) following the matchups with the Steelers and Cowboys. December will determine how these Giants are remembered.

“Everything we’ve done to this point has made December important,” McAdoo said. “December is an opportunity to go out there and play good football against good football teams.”

The Giants haven’t been world-beaters in December since winning their most recent Super Bowl. They were 1-3 in 2015, 3-1 in 2014, 3-2 in 2013 and 2-3 in 2012. A 3-1 run this year would clinch a playoff berth; 2-2 would make it interesting. Then there’s the New Year’s Day game at Washington, which could determine whether the Giants keep playing.

Cruz is ready to make the most of it all.

“To be in this position doesn’t come very often for anyone in this league,” he said. “To be in position to play some football that means something and can propel you to what your goals are, you have to relish that moment.”

That’s what he plans to do.


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