Victor Cruz is back, and the New York Giants now have a ton of weapons: The best of NFL Sunday

Long a fan favourite, Cruz’s return from injury gives quarterback Eli Manning a bona fide second option to complement all-world No 1 option Odell Beckham Jr. But the Giants’ arsenal doesn’t end there.
New York Giants player Victor Cruz, centre, dances in the end zone to celebrate a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Larry W. Smith / EPA
New York Giants player Victor Cruz, centre, dances in the end zone to celebrate a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Larry W. Smith / EPA

It had been 721 days since we had seen the salsa danced by Victor Cruz in the end zone celebrating a New York Giants touchdown. Cruz returned to football on Sunday, promptly scored a touchdown, promptly danced his signature dance, and I couldn’t have been the only one to smile at one of the day’s biggest feel-good moments.

Long a fan favourite, Cruz’s return from injury isn’t just for the feels. His return gives quarterback Eli Manning a bona fide second option to complement all-world No 1 option Odell Beckham Jr. But the Giants’ arsenal doesn’t end there.

Rookie Sterling Shepard had a touchdown and looked like he belonged. Larry Donnell scored, too, and has often shown flashes of being a top-10 tight end. Running back Shane Vereen outshined Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott, especially in the fourth quarter as he was the biggest factor in the Giants pulling off the 20-19 win over their NFC East rivals.

• More NFL: John Elway always gets his way | Preseason predictions

Manning is 35 years old with two memorable Super Bowl titles to his credit. His CV is already Hall of Fame worthy, and a middling few years for both him and the Giants had seemed to indicate the book on the Eli Era was already been written. The time between then and when he retires would just be a victory lap, with any actual success being gravy.

But he nor the Giants have rested on their laurels. They fired the coach of those two titles, Tom Coughlin (or he officially resigned, but no one is buying that), after three straight losing seasons and replaced him with his former assistant and human Mr Potato Head Ben McAdoo. It was a rare occurrence of an NFL team shaking up the status quo while simultaneously embracing familiarity. Typically, coaching changes are wholesale with no assistants being retained.

Winning in Dallas in Week 1 is as good a start as the Giants could have hoped for. In fact, it’s the ninth time the hated rivals have opened a season against each other, and the first time the Giants won.

In a very winnable division, don’t count out the Giants and their arsenal of offensive weapons. If the offensive line can hold up and the defence can at least stay competitive, the Giants will return to January football, where under Manning they’ve been one of the toughest teams to beat. Just ask Tom Brady.

Patriots don’t skip a beat

Speaking of Brady, it looks as though his four-game suspension, as predicted, won’t hold back the New England Patriots from again being at the top of the AFC. They wasted no time showing why by winning on the road against a loaded Arizona Cardinals team 23-21. Heck, they even did so without the league’s most un-guardable player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the game with a hamstring injury.

Bill Belichick is a magician and there’s no other explanation. Arguably the league’s best-ever quarterback is out for a month? No problem. Gronk hurt? No excuses, next guy up. The result is almost always the same: the Patriots win.

Jimmy Garoppolo will be just fine in Brady’s absence, as shown by his 264-yard, 1 TD performance against the Cardinals. He might even pull a Matt Cassell and play so well that another quarterback-desperate team comes knocking, offering the Patriots even more ammunition to keep their unimpeachable dynasty on top.

Garoppolo won’t, however, play so well that the team thinks about replacing Brady with the younger option. There will be a lot of annoying people saying that over the next few weeks as the Patriots keep winning without Brady. Those people are stupid and annoying.

The Patriots winning without Brady isn’t because Brady is replaceable, it’s because every Patriot is. It’s because Belichick can win with any player he coaches because those players are coached by Belichick. Having Brady back just means they’ll be even better than the best.

Revenge Sunday

When Dirk Koetter, the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Mike Smith to be his defensive coordinator, it was a reversal of roles from a prior successful relationship. Smith was the head coach when the Atlanta Falcons enjoyed four trips to the play-offs from 2008-2012, easily the franchise’s best five-year stretch. The offensive coordinator for the best of those teams, the 2012 team that went 13-3 and went to the NFC title game, was Koetter.

Now they’re both in Tampa Bay, with Koetter in charge this time, and couldn’t have asked for a more familiar first opponent – the Falcons. They proved the better, more well-coached side, as Jameis Winston lit up an awful Atlanta defence for four touchdowns and the Bucs won 31-24.

Koetter and Smith weren’t the only coaches getting revenge in Week 1. Jim Caldwell, who likely needs a strong season to keep his job, led his Detroit Lions to an impressive win in Indianapolis, the team where Caldwell coached for years and was fired from in 2011.

Adam Gase, new head coach of the Miami Dolphins, had his chance at revenge against the team that beat him in the Super Bowl when he was offensive coordinator of the Broncos. But Gase was yet another victim of a fourth-quarter comeback by Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Still, his team looked promising compared to last year’s disaster.

Play of the day

Further proof that Aaron Rodgers can do things few other humans can do:

We’ve all been there, Jags fans.

Stat of the day

The Saints lost at home to the Raiders in hilarious fashion, but no one can take from them one of the longest plays in league history.

kjeffers@thenational.ae

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Published: September 12, 2016 04:00 AM

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