Victor Cruz came out of nowhere to become the New York Giants' go-to receiver a year ago.
With opponents watching his every move this season, and Hakeem Nicks still working his way back from a broken foot in the offseason and a swollen knee, Cruz remains quarterback Eli Manning's No. 1 target.
It was never more evident than last Sunday when the two-time Super Bowl MVP found Cruz on a 77-yard scoring pass play with 1:13 to play to give the NFC East-leading Giants (5-2) a dramatic 27-23 win over quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
Cruz not only leads the Giants with 50 catches for 627 yards and seven touchdowns, his total receptions is third overall in the league heading into this weekend's game against the Cowboys (3-3) in Dallas.
It's a great follow-up to a season in which he set a franchise record with 1,536 yards receiving. Though Cruz certainly hasn't looked at this year as a proving ground to show last year wasn't a fluke.
"I just wanted to come in and continue to play my game," he said. "I didn't want to come in and try to prove anybody wrong or prove all the doubters wrong. Because I think what I did last year proved a lot of people wrong in itself. So for my sake, (I) just (need to) continue to be consistent and continue to catch every ball that's thrown in my direction. That's the only thing I can do, is run my route, read the defenses, read the coverages and catch everything that's in my area."
Facing the Cowboys this weekend is going to give Cruz a chance to make up for what might have been his worst game. He dropped a couple of passes in the 24-17 loss to Dallas in the season opener.
"Giants-Cowboys is always a big game," Cruz said. "We want to come in and match their level of intensity. They're coming off a solid win against Carolina. We want to be able to match their intensity and come out firing."
If the Giants win, they can open a 2½-game lead over Dallas in the division, which might be tough to overcome. A second Cowboys' win over the champions, though, would muddy the waters in the NFC East.
"Teams are doing a good job of keeping the safety in my area and doing things coverage-wise to keep me away from making the big play," Cruz said. "But I think I've done a good job this year of taking advantage of those opportunities when we get the chance to get a big play called."
Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr knows what to expect from Cruz.
"I have been watching him on film." Carr said. "Just to see the momentum he has picked up since the last time we played ... I am going to have my work cut out for me."
Carr said Cruz has the ability to get off the line quickly. And once he catches the ball, he has the speed to break free.
"That is what they do best," Carr said. "They have confidence in their ability to finish games. Cruz's number has been called many times. He came through."
Cruz also is coming off a week in which he angered running back Ahmad Bradshaw by missing a block on a 15-yard run in the second half. Bradshaw yelled at Cruz and then belted him in the back of the helmet.
"He did. I'm not going to lie," Cruz said, adding he was not upset. "I feel like when you're on the field the coaches aren't out there playing for you, we're out there playing for each other. When we're out on that field it's all about us."
NOTES: The only Giant ruled out for Sunday's game is linebacker Jacquian Williams. ... S Kenny Phillips (knee) and DT Rocky Bernard (quadriceps) have a chance to play for the first time in five games. ... Bradshaw, who only practiced once this week because of a lingering foot injury, is 50-50, while center David Baas (ankle) and Nicks, who had a good week of practice, are probable.
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