The Giants’ season was unofficially over weeks ago after their loss in San Diego, but it officially ended on Thursday for wideout Victor Cruz, who underwent a knee debridement procedure in Pensacola, Fla.
Big Blue’s leading receiver was given a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews earlier in the week, and the famed surgeon also performed the procedure. Cruz will be out for Sunday’s tilt in Detroit and the season finale at home against the Redskins in two weeks.
Cruz, who was not available for comment, has not missed a game due to injury since he spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. His new ailment, however, is more substantial considering he was the team’s No. 1 receiving option this season by amassing 73 catches, 998 yards and four scores. He’ll end his campaign two yards shy of the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time since he became a starter in 2011.
Other than quarterback Eli Manning, losing Cruz may be the biggest loss on the Giants’ offense. And with a unit that’s already been struggling with the wideout in the lineup, things could get even uglier without him.
“We’ve got other receivers that we certainly rehearse for just this occasion,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said, adding it’ll likely be return specialist Jerrel Jernigan filling Cruz’s role. “As much as he’s had limited opportunities, experience and exposure to get in there, those other [reserves] have had even less. It’s difficult, but it’s what we’ve had to contend with all season long. It’s just part of the job of trying to get whoever’s up and ready as prepared as you possibly can and give them a plan that gives them the best possible chance to be successful.”
Cruz, who hurt his knee in the third quarter of last week’s loss to the Seahawks, also suffered a concussion on that same play. The Paterson, N.J. native didn’t suffer any torn ligaments, and the expected recovery time for a knee debridement is usually three to four weeks.
The Giants offense is now fractured more than any time this season, meaning others will have to pick up the slack— starting with Jernigan.
“Jerrel will definitely be the guy. He’s the one that most closely embodies the qualities you’re looking for in the slot position— the quickness, the toughness. You just hope he’ll react and respond to the different coverage disguises in there. Maybe not as quickly as Victor, because he’s been there before, but quickly enough,” Gilbride said, detailing the intricacies of playing the slot. “On the outside, you have a corner [covering], maybe a corner and a safety. But inside, you have a nickel, you have a linebacker [and] you have a safety. You have a lot more variables that come into the equation. To be able to respond with the speed that you have to react is a lot more challenging inside.”
Gilbride added he could foresee a big game for Jernigan because of the heavy lifting the slot receiver does in his offense.
“There’s no question there’s a lot more opportunities inside [for receptions], but there’s also a lot more things that can alter or modify what you’re being confronted with defensively,” Gilbride said. “To see him react and respond accurately [to coverages], as intelligently as he did [in practice], as well as make the physical plays he did was good to see. This week will be another challenge for him.”
Going forward without Cruz will be a big challenge. But it’s just another obstacle for Big Blue, as the injuries have come in waves this season.
“That sounds like an excuse, but you don’t have to be too intelligent to figure that out,” Gilbride said when asked if his game plan is hindered without Cruz. “There’s no question that’s been a factor in our uneven play. … All we can do now, though, is get the next guy ready to go.”
Big Blue notes …
»Of the 11 projected offensive starters at the beginning of the season, Cruz is the sixth to have his season cut short by injury. That number increases when including the three other players who became starters and then went on IR.
»Jernigan will take Cruz’s spot in the slot during three-wide sets, while second-year receiver Rueben Randle will start on the outside opposite Hakeem Nicks.
»Adding insult to injury on Cruz’s final play of the season was the fact that the official ruled his catch legit, only to have the Seahawks challenge it and have the ruling overturned.
»If there’s any consolation for Cruz, he was actually cleared by the league’s concussion protocol earlier this week, but that obviously won’t matter now that he’s on the shelf for the season.
»Had Cruz notched 1,000 receiving yards this season, he’d have been only the fourth Giants’ receiver to accomplish that feat in three straight seasons.
» The Giants still didn’t have the services of a handful of players in Thursday’s practice— though a far cry from the laundry list on Wednesday. Among those sitting out were right guard David Diehl, running back Peyton Hillis, cornerback Trumaine McBride, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and safety Cooper Taylor.
Coughlin said he expects Diehl back on Friday.
Among those who sat out Wednesday, but made it back on Thursday, included offensive tackle James Brewer, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, cornerback Terrell Thomas and Jernigan.
»Offensive lineman Kevin Boothe said he’s looking forward to the challenge of grappling with the Lions’ tenacious defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and added he doesn’t fear the hulking tackle despite his bad-boy reputation: “I’ve seen him on TV [and] he doesn’t look that mean.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.