Victor Cruz captured the hearts of many NFL fans with his electric, record-breaking play, entertaining touchdown celebrations and his genuine, humble demeanor on and off the field as a member of the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants last season. But just as quickly as this star was born, it could burn out all the same if he continues to play at a level so unpleasantly displayed in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
Cruz, who spent the offseason living the fast life and taking in all the perks of his new found superstardom, broke the 2012 regular season open with a dismal, unexpected performance that culminated in three key drops and a disappointing loss to the hated Cowboys, 24-17.
Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox TV analyst Terry Bradshaw had no problem taking a jab at Cruz, his performance and his offseason activities (via Schenectady Daily Gazette):
“Victor, no more commercials. He caught more passes in that commercial than he did in the game on Wednesday.”
Bradshaw’s low blow was a necessary shot whether Cruz chooses to agree or not. Months removed from one of the greatest seasons by a New York Giant ever, who could blame him for taking advantage of his success? But it’s football season now and Cruz—who did still manage to catch six passes for 58 yards—must get his act together and shift his focus to the game that’s made him a celebrity.
“At the end of the day, there are people out there that want to see you fail,” Cruz told USA Today’s Mike Garafolo. “I’m not saying Terry’s one of them, but there are people out there who don’t want to see you succeed, no matter how good of a guy you are.”
Sadly, that’s not the case here. Most of those voicing displeasure with Cruz’s unacceptable Week 1 performance do so out of concern rather than hate.
Cruz’s 1,536-yard breakout season in 2011 was a promising start for a former undrafted free agent from UMass, but the 25-year-old receiver would not be the first to have a huge year only to catch a terrible case of the drops and never return to prominence. The Green Bay Packers’ Jermichael Finley and former first round draft pick David Boston are prime examples, though much higher expectations were placed upon them than anyone ever could have expected from Cruz coming out of college.
Finley, though he did have a statistically-solid 2011 for the Packers, has struggled substantially in the drops department since his breakout season in 2009. He caught 55 passes for 767 yards and eight touchdowns last season, but dropped 14 passes, which led all tight ends according to AllGreenBayPackers.com. In the postseason, his butterfingers cost the Packers a first down and ultimately the game in their NFC Championship loss to the Giants. The drops appeared again in Sunday’s season opener for the Packers, as Finley dropped two pivotal passes that halted a fourth quarter drive and eventually contributed to a loss to the San Francisco 49ers at home.
David Boston, meanwhile, was the eighth pick in the 1999 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals with much expected from the mouthy yet talented Ohio State Buckeye. He started hot, posting two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2000 and 2001. After that, however, Boston was never the same. He struggled to stay healthy, stay out of trouble and contribute like he had once upon a time.
Is that to say Victor Cruz will turn out like either of these players? Should one assume him to be a one-hit wonder destined for utter failure? Certainly not.
While Cruz did struggle to hang onto the football in the season opener, it was only the season opener. It was one game of 15 more that still remain on the regular season schedule. It isn’t time to panic, but it is time to show concern.
Cruz’s uninspiring performance reeked of a lack of focus and unpreparedness. And one would be a fool not to cite his offseason—and maybe his ego—as a reason for such lackadaisical preparation. If that’s the case, Cruz and the Giants coaches must get on top of the issue now before it gets out of hand.
Cruz did, however, show an ability to get open, and his sideline grab reminiscent of Mario Manningham’s memorable Super XLVI catch is likely a greater indication of what to expect from the Giants’ No. 80 this season than the heartbreaking drops we saw on Wednesday. Cruz is bursting with potential and blessed with amazing, unparalleled talent that could easily make him one of the NFL’s top wide receivers.
It is certainly worth noting that this isn’t the first season opener Cruz has struggled in. Last season against the Washington Redskins, he dropped a key pass and found himself on the bench. The Giants signed Brandon Stokely that week, but an injury to Stokely thrust Cruz back into the mix and the rest was history—literally, Cruz’s outstanding output eclipsed the franchise’s single-season record previously held by Amani Toomer of 1,343 receiving yards. He did struggle with drops at times during the 2011 season, but his highlight reel grabs overshadowed nearly all of Cruz’s mistakes during his breakout campaign.
Cruz would not be the first nor the last to allow his fame and fortune to transform his propitious play into a forgotten career full of wasted potential. Fortunately, the salsa-dancing receiver still has plenty of time to work out the kinks and regain his focus before anyone should really start to fear the worst for Cruz and the future of his NFL career.