EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Being in the wrong place at the wrong time was a running theme for New York Giants wide receivers even before Tuesday morning. That's when Victor Cruz(notes) and a handful of other Giants players were at a nightclub. Shots rang out at approximately 2:30 a.m. as another patron was killed, putting an abrupt end to the belated 25th birthday party for Cruz.
While this was a far cry from the Plaxico Burress(notes) case, it served for the usual spiel from coach Tom Coughlin about how "nothing good ever happens after 11 p.m." Sadly, in the land where Frank Sinatra and so many other entertainers have made a living on the sex appeal of the wee small hours of the morning, Coughlin has a hard time selling that.
But here's the greater point: For as talented as the Giants' receiving corps has proved to be with guys like Cruz performing so well, the group's targets have had problems knowing where to be. Specifically, on at least half of Eli Manning's(notes) eight interceptions this season, the problem has been tied to the receiver being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"There have been some pretty crucial times when we haven't finished routes or read them correctly," a Giants source said earlier this week. The latest example came on Manning's second interception during Sunday's loss to the San Francisco 49ers as wide receiver Mario Manningham(notes) didn't finish a route the quarterback expected.
"You could say I'm supposed to work through it a little further," Manningham said, a little sheepishly. "We definitely weren't on the same page, so that has to get fixed."
Likewise, Manning had an interception on a pass to Cruz in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season when Cruz was in the wrong spot. In fact, one of the issues the Giants have had to work through the previous two seasons was inexperience at wide receiver as they transitioned from Burress and Amani Toomer(notes) as the starters to the likes of Manningham, Cruz and Hakeem Nicks(notes). That transition is one of the reasons Manning had a career-high 25 interceptions last season.
Manning is on pace to cut that to a far more manageable 14 this season. That's still too many for his liking, but better than it has been.
"You'd like to be together on every single play, but that just doesn't really happen," Manning said. "We're all human out there, trying to figure it out."
The Giants are going to have to do a lot better than try, however, if they're going to survive a brutal stretch of games the rest of the way. That stretch will likely determine if they can hang onto first place in the NFC East. At 6-3, the Giants are only a game in front of the Dallas Cowboys with the Philadelphia Eagles set to play here Sunday night. New York and Dallas face each other twice in their final four games, so the division will likely come down to those contests. However, the Giants also have games with the undefeated Green Bay Packers, NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints and the New York Jets remaining, making it one of the toughest stretches in the league the rest of the way.
Coughlin has limited his discussion of the schedule to words like "challenging" and "tough," but not overplaying the issue. That's an obvious effort to avoid getting too caught up in the future and losing sight of the next game on the schedule.
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When it came to Cruz and some of the other players who had been at the club, Coughlin said he would talk to them "like a father talking to a son."
"That's how it went," said Cruz, who didn't appear to hide any details of the event. He was, truly, a near-victim of bad timing. "I wasn't sure what to expect with coach. He can be different at different times."
Cruz smiled as he said that. The point had hit home long before he was approached by Coughlin. Cruz's longtime girlfriend Elaina (they have been together, on and off, for 10 years) is pregnant with the couple's first child, a daughter who is due Jan. 24. His mother, Blanca, sent him a series of text messages Tuesday after news spread of the incident.
"She said, 'You're done clubbing, right?' Yes, I'm done clubbing," Cruz said. "She's going crazy, buying onesies already. She's excited … as I was leaving, it just hit me that I have to be more careful with this. You want to go out and have a good time, enjoy yourself a little, but some things just aren't worth it."
Certainly not fatherhood, much less a season.
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- Tom Coughlin