Jerrel Jernigan stars in Cruz's absence

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In a span of nine quarters, Jerrel Jernigan went from a draft bust to a potential viable receiving option for the New York Giants in 2014.

Jernigan continued his hot play since Victor Cruz was lost for the season by torching the Redskins for 147 total yards and two touchdowns in the Giants' 20-6 win over Washington on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Jernigan caught six balls for 90 yards and a score, and rushed twice for 57 yards and a touchdown.

"I wouldn't say I proved anything but this is why the Giants drafted me here, they know what I can do, they seen me in college," Jernigan said. "That's why they drafted me to come here and make plays like this and it was just a matter of time before I get out there and proved to them I can do it at this level."

Before Cruz went down in the third quarter against Seattle on Dec. 15 with a concussion and a bruised MCL that would require surgery and end his season, Jernigan was more of a roster filler than a contributor during his time with the Giants. The 2011 third-round pick had just 10 catches on the season for 92 yards entering that game, and just 13 catches in his career. He had yet to find the end zone.

Once Cruz got hurt, the Giants plugged Jernigan into the slot, and he showcased some of the play-making ability that intrigued the Giants on draft day. He caught six passes in the fourth quarter against Seattle, and finished with a team-best seven catches for 67 yards against one of the best defenses in football. Last week in Detroit, he hauled in six passes for 80 yards and his first career touchdown.

Sunday, he had his best performance to date. He made a tough catch between two Washington players for a 24-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put the Giants ahead 7-3. On the final play of the third quarter, Jernigan took a handoff and broke tackles for a 49-yard score to put the Giants ahead 17-6.

Jernigan acknowledged the team probably looks at him in a different light for 2014 now than it did heading into the Seattle game, as he averaged 98 yards from scrimmage in the final three contests. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was impressed with what he saw from Jernigan to end the season.

"I was really pleased with him. The way in which he played and the way he finished," Coughlin said. "He grew into a guy that wanted the ball and did things with the ball when he got it. ... His play time increased and he responded very well to it and I was happy for him."

The Giants may have to replace Hakeem Nicks in the receiving corps next year, as he is a free agent, and the team will need Jernigan and Rueben Randle to step up if Nicks departs. Jernigan knows he will have his best shot at a bigger role, and he's ready for a grander opportunity.

The wideout suddenly might be a key fixture in the Giants passing attack.

"There's a big opportunity whether Hakeem comes back or not," Jernigan said. "I'm just out here playing, trying to let them know I can contribute to the offense next year with Victor coming back."