Drops have fan-favorite Victor Cruz feeling the boos

Victor Cruz has been targeted 16 by Eli Manning this season but has only caught seven passes in the Giants' first two games.Alex Goodlett/Getty Images Victor Cruz has been targeted 16 by Eli Manning this season but has only caught seven passes in the Giants’ first two games.

He once reveled in all those cheers.

For most of the last four seasons, Victor Cruz was the ultimate fan favorite, the NFL’s underdog, paying tribute to his grandmother after every dynamic, big-play touchdown with his salsa dance. He loved the attention, soaked up the spotlight.

“You enjoy it,” he said. “Any time the fans are on your side, you enjoy it.”

But Cruz no longer cares if those fans are on his side. On Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, a different Victor Cruz will lead his 0-2 Giants against the Houston Texans. He’s been sobered — maybe even a little hurt — by a harsh lesson learned about the Big Blue faithful.

Last week, four years into his magic carpet ride of a career, he heard the MetLife crowd stunningly turn on him, booing him mercilessly as he dropped three critical passes in one of the most disappointing performances of his career.

And while he understands exactly how to gain redemption, he says that no longer matters.

“I don’t care about it,” he told The News. “I don’t think about it. I don’t look at it (Twitter). The minute you make a good play, they’ll love you all over again.”

Cruz and the Giants are desperately hoping to give their fans something to love on Sunday, after two straight weeks of increasingly embarrassing futility. For the second straight year, they’ve limped out of the gates, playing preseason-level football to start the regular season. Their two losses have been ugly, a blowout followed by a Cruz-aided, fourth-quarter meltdown against a backup quarterback.

It’s all conjured images of last year’s historically bad, 0-6 start. But this season, the Giants keep promising, things will be different.

“(I am) extremely confident in this group,” said safety Antrel Rolle. “It is taking us a little while to get where we want to get, but we are close. We are close to being in there and we have to stay with each other. That is the only way we are going to get things right.”

“It is a new year,” Cruz added. “It’s new teammates, new people and new energy. It is a matter of being able to build on that and build on what we have that is positive here and transfer that over to game day.”

Cruz has seen the positives, even if nobody else has, especially in the much-maligned, completely overhauled offense. Last week, against a high-impact Arizona Cardinals secondary, Eli Manning finally awakened from a two-month slumber, completing 13 of his first 15 passes for 277 yards and two scores, leading the Giants on several sustained drives.

The Giants might have won that game, too, if not for Cruz’s mistakes, and nobody knows that better than Cruz. His first-quarter stumble on a crossing route had led to a Manning interception, and in the fourth quarter, he’d let three critical passes slip out of his reach.

The most painful, he said, came with the Giants trailing, 22-14, when Cruz, behind the Cards ‘D’, could only get his fingertips on a deep pass just out of reach.

“The one deep corner ball, that escaped my grasp a little bit,” he said ruefully.

It was the kind of pass that would have led to a salsa, something Cruz hasn’t done before the MetLife crowd in a long time; his last home touchdown came against the Eagles — on Dec. 30, 2012.

But the Giants need more from Cruz — and they need it now more than ever. Their receiving corps, once the strength of the offense, is stunningly thin, with Cruz and inconsistent third-year man Rueben Randle as the only experienced targets. First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. is weeks — maybe months — away from contributing, and preseason phenom Corey Washington is viewed as a project.

It’s up to Cruz to carry this Giants offense, to rescue the Giants offense, just as he used to do so often when he was first carving his salsa-ing legend. And that’s what Cruz is planning to do this Sunday, whether the fans are yelling “Cruuzzzzzz!!!” or “Boooooo!”

“There’s always frustration any time you don’t get it done,” he said. “It’s part of the game. But I look forward to catching the ball and making plays every game. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

And then the cheers will rise at MetLife again.

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