Giants' Victor Cruz serves as star in his first game in 700 days

Giants' win boosts morale (0:46)

It may have only been one victory, but the way the Giants pulled out their season opener against the Cowboys was huge. ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan reports on the positive takeaways in New York's 20-19 win. (0:46)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Victor Cruz couldn’t have dreamed it up any better. His first game back in 700 days included a game-winning touchdown and a salsa dance with just more than ix minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of a thrilling 20-19 victory in which the Dallas Cowboys ran out of time for a potential game-winning field goal.

Cruz hadn’t played since Oct. 12, 2014, when he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He missed the entire 2015 season with a calf injury. The New York Giants waited patiently this summer, even when Cruz struggled with a groin injury.

When Cruz finally did make it back to the field for a regular-season game on Sunday, he made his presence felt. He had three catches during a late first-half touchdown drive and made his biggest play -- perhaps since his touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLVI -- on a third-and-goal midway through the fourth quarter.

Cruz worked himself open in the middle of the field and quarterback Eli Manning found him for a 3-yard touchdown to put the Giants ahead 20-19. What followed is what Cruz and Giants fans have been missing since early in the 2014 season -- a celebratory salsa dance after a key touchdown grab.

The victory wasn’t pretty, but it was exactly what the Giants needed in their opener after a season of late-game collapses. This time, they drove down the field in the fourth quarter and their defense held. This time, they didn't collapse and beat the Cowboys to win their opener for the first time since 2010.

The $200-million-plus talent infusion to the defense paid dividends. The Giants weren’t dominant, but they stuffed the run (3.4 yards per carry) and held the Cowboys to four field goals. Dallas’ only touchdown came after a Manning interception early in the second half.

But for all that money the Giants spent in free agency, it was an addition the Giants been awaiting for the past 23 months that proved to be the difference. Cruz served as the star in his first game back in almost two years.