Playing the Philadelphia Eagles always had a special meaning for Victor Cruz. This year, even more so.
The last time Cruz faced the Eagles was Oct. 12, 2014, and it almost cost the New York Giants receiver his career.
During the third quarter of the sixth game of that season, Cruz jumped in the end zone to catch a pass and tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. It was ugly and Cruz knew it right away. He cried.
Surgery and rehabilitation followed, and so did disappointment. The popular former free agent from nearby Paterson, New Jersey missed the following season with a calf injury that also required surgery.
Many doubted Cruz would make it back this year, especially when he had a groin problem in training camp. The 29-year-old beat the odds: He has played in every game, catching 24 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown, the winner in the season opener against Dallas, the Cowboys’ only loss.
Cruz gave a coy smile when asked if this game against Philadelphia meant more than a meeting of two teams with 4-3 records trying to get to the playoffs.
“In the back of my mind I think about it,” Cruz said Wednesday after practice. “It’s a different circumstance, a different year. But definitely, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it is in my mind.”
Cruz is more willing to talk about this season.
“I feel really good about where I am right now,” he said. “I feel good about what I have done so far within this year, and I just want to continue to build on that. I need to go upward and not the other way around.”
Cruz is no longer the Giants’ main target. Odell Beckham Jr., who didn’t get a chance to play with No. 80 until this season, remains Eli Manning’s primary target. He is the big play threat with 40 catches for 630 yards (15.8 yards) and three touchdowns.
Rookie Sterling Shepard also has more catches than Cruz with 31 for 334 yards and two touchdowns. Cruz (13.8) is averaging more yards than Shepard (10.8)
Cruz thinks there is room for him to improve.
“I have not had a 100-yard game yet,” Cruz said. “I have not had a seven-or-eight catch game yet. I just want to continue and take what is there for me. But I definitely feel like there is some play out there for me to have.”
Cruz even thinks fans will be able to see the play-making version of the receiver who used to excite fans with his salsas after touchdowns catches.
“He’s still there,” Cruz said, referring to himself in the third person. “It’s a matter of getting him in space and getting him the ball for him to be himself. I think we are going to do that in these upcoming weeks.”
The first thing for the Giants though, is to find a way to beat the Eagles, who have won five of the last six and 13 of 17 since 2008.
Coming off the bye, Cruz said the Giants can’t afford to be sluggish.
“It’s a division game so we understand the level of execution, but against Philadelphia, it’s always going to be physical,” he said. “It is always going to be a game where you are going to leave that football game exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally. You are just going to be spent. You want to make sure when that clock strikes zero you are on the winning end. This rivalry, this game is always one that takes it all out of you.”
NOTES: Backup QB Ryan Nassib was on the injury report with an elbow problem. He said it’s something that has developed over time. He expects to be available Sunday. … Beckham said his hip bothered him so much in warmups in London on Oct. 23, he almost didn’t play in the win over the Rams. … S Nat Berhe has been in the concussion protocol since Sept. 25. He could not have contract in practice Wednesday. … Every Giant practiced to some extent Wednesday. … DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) was finally taken off the injury report.