When it counted for real late last season, the New York Giants got a huge play from wide receiver Victor Cruz that drastically turned their own fortunes for the better and that of their MetLife Stadium co-tenants, the New York Jets, for the worse.
Cruz’s 99-yard touchdown catapulted the Giants (1-1, preseason) from mere playoff hopefuls to eventual Super Bowl champions, while providing the key turning point in the Jets’ three-game, season-ending tailspin.
Although the stakes were of far less significance on the same field on Saturday night, rookie safety Jayron Hosley gave the Jets (0-2, preseason) some haunting reminders of what happened eight months earlier, with a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown that put the stamp on the Giants’ 26-3 rout of the Jets in the teams’ second preseason game of 2012.
With the Jets trailing 6-0 late in the second quarter, and starting quarterback Mark Sanchez (9-11, 59 yards, INT) driving his team deep into Giants’ territory and seemingly back into the game, Hosley, a third-round draft pick from Virginia Tech, stepped in front of wide receiver Patrick Turner and raced untouched for a game-turning score that much like Cruz’s touchdown last year, sent Big Blue on its was way to victory and Gang Green to defeat.
While the Giants were happy to see their first-year selection produce a big play, they were equally pleased with the continuation of a staple – quarterback pressure – of last year’s NFL title-winning team.
In all, the Giants battered and bruised Jet quarterbacks for seven sacks, including three by their fearsome trio of defensive ends (two by Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora each posting a half sack) against Sanchez.
After halftime, three young reserves – second-year safety Will Hill (a Jersey City product), and a pair of rookie defensive ends, Matt Brouha and Adewale Ojomo – combined for four sacks (with Ojomo getting a pair) on the ever-overhyped backup quarterback Tim Tebow (5-14, 69 yards; 2 carries for five yards), who entered the game to an ovation during the Jets’ first series of the second half.
Hill would also recover a fumble in the fourth quarter that was correctly taken away via a replay reversal and in the second quarter, Tuck would have added one more sack to the Giants’ total if not for Umenyiora being flagged for an offsides penalty.
Earlier, defensive tackle Linval Joseph made a nice run stop on 3rd-and-2 to force a Jets punt on their first possession of the game, and the combinations of Tuck and linebacker Chase Blackburn, and then defensive tackle Rocky Bernard and linebacker Keith Rivers (the former Cincinnati Bengal, filling in for injured linebacker Michael Boley) stopped the Jets on consecutive runs on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 inside the Giants’ 40-yard line.
As the Giants kept the Jets’ offense in check, their own offense showed signs of the same thing that terrorized NFL defenses last year – starting quarterback Eli Manning (7-14, 62 yards, INT) maintaining his solid chemistry with Cruz, especially with starting wide receiver Hakeem Nicks still nursing a foot injury.
Coming out slinging and looking for Cruz right away, Manning unsuccessfully went deep on the Giants’ first offensive play from scrimmage, with Cruz catching a ball out of bounds, trying to beat all-pro cornerback Darrelle Revis up the right sideline.
But, the Jets helped the Giants out with a roughing the punter penalty, and two plays later, Manning completed to Cruz over the middle for 21 yards. He came right back to Cruz on the next play, for another nine yards, to the Jets’ 28-yard line.
Injury-prone running back Ahmad Bradshaw (three carries, two yards) kept the drive going with a powerful run of four yards on 3rd-and-3, before leaving for the locker room with a hand injury which yielded negative x-rays.
The Giants settled for a 3-0 lead on a field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes, who was a perfect 4-for-4, making kicks from 35, 30, 40 and 45 yards, while also kicking the ball deep into the Jets’ end zone on all seven of his kickoffs, four times, for touchbacks.
Running back D.J. Ware ran for just 15 yards on 11 carries, but after some great kickoff coverage by the Giants pinned the Jets deep in their own end which forced a punt that gave the Giants good field position, Ware sandwiched an 8-yard completion from Manning to Cruz with a pair of seven-yard runs that led to another Manning-to-Cruz connection (of nine yards), one that set up Tynes’ second field goal, to give the Giants a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter -one play after Cruz seemed to have been interfered with in the end zone, an infraction that wasn’t called by the NFL’s current replacement referees.
Although Manning generally looked good will throwing to Cruz, he was awful on his next attempt, badly overthrowing rookie wide receiver Reuben Randle for an interception reminiscent of his earlier days as an unsure quarterback who was still learning to become the two-time Super Bowl MVP he is today.
Neither that mistake, nor a partially blocked punt off the leg of punter Steve Weatherford (on the Giants’ next possession) however, proved costly to the Giants on the scoreboard.
The teams traded field goal drives to start the second half, with backup David Carr (5-9, 83 yards) hitting Randle on a 49-yard pass down the middle that led to Tynes’ third field goal and 16-0 lead, before Tebow directed a time-consuming 14-play, 68-yard drive in 8:26, for the Jets’ only points, on a 30-yard field goal by kicker Josh Brown. Even that was tough to come by for the Jets, as Brown’s kick was barely good only after deflecting off of the right upright.
Those points were given right back though, as wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan (2 catches, 26 yards) flashed some good speed on a 19-yard catch and run across the field, to set up Tynes’ final field goal, which put the Giants up 19-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Unable to respond, the Jets, who punted nine times in 13 possessions, punted on each of their final five trips, none of which produced any positive net yardage, as the Jets went three-and-out four times before running just four plays the last time they touched the ball. The best of those five fourth-quarter drives (to use the term loosely) finished with just two yards, while one had zero yards, and three others ended with negative yardage.
Two more rookies shined to close the scoring as wide receiver David Douglas made a great leaping catch down the middle for a 23-yard gain, and on the next play, New Jersey native and Rutgers University product, running back Joe Martinek took a short screen pass to the left and turned it into a 14-yard touchdown reception with 6:41 left in the game.
Each of those passes were the only attempts by third-string quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who looked good while finishing out a preseason game for the Giants for the second straight week.
However, Perrilloux still managed to annoy head coach Tom Coughlin, who always the consummate professional, appeared in mid-season form, when even with a 26-3 lead in the waning moments of a Week 2 preseason game, was shaking his head with frustration, when the third quarterback on his depth chart allowed the Giants to take a delay of game penalty with 3:21 remaining.
Rookie running back David Wilson, who had an auspicious start in his first game as a pro last week, led the Giants with 26 rushing yards, but did so on eight carries, for an underwhelming 3.3 yards per carry, despite one run of seven yards.
Escaping another preseason week without any serious injuries, besides Bradshaw’s minor hand issue, linebacker Mark Herzlich (hip pointer) and defensive end Adrian Tracy (hamstring) each left the game with injuries that don’t appear to keep them out of action for a long time.
The victory was the Giants’ third in four tries over the Jets in the teams’ new shared stadium. Two years ago, the New Jersey-born Cruz, who starred at the FCS level at the University of Massachusetts, had his initial breakout moment as an NFL receiver with a three-touchdown, 145-yard performance in the Giants’ 31-16 preseason win in the first NFL game ever played at the then-named New Meadowlands Stadium. Last year in the preseason, the Jets returned the favor in the inaugural MetLife Bowl, by winning 17-3, to earn the rights to the Snoopy trophy that went along with that win.
Of course, the Giants had the last laugh four months later by severely damaging the Jets’ playoff chances and beginning a six-game winning streak that culminated with a Super Bowl title after their Cruz-induced Week 16 regular season victory against the Jets last year.
Now, the Giants, who won’t allow anyone in the organization to wear their Super Bowl rings around their practice facility, as they try to focus on achieving a championship repeat this year, will have the honor of displaying their latest trophy in their facility- yes, the coveted Snoopy trophy.
Not exactly the cache that the name Lombardi carries in terms of trophies, but an honor nonetheless when it comes to New York football in August.