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Victor Cruz will be remembered as a ghost of Jets' Christmas past

The Giants' Victor Cruz runs 99 yards for a touchdown in front of a stunned Jets sideline on Dec. 24, 2011. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Victor Cruz caught 303 passes in his New York Giants career, which ended Monday with a pink slip. His 75th crushed the heart of the Giants' New Jersey neighbors, the New York Jets.

Christmas Eve, 2011. It was billed as "The Fight Before Christmas," and it lives as one of the darkest moments in Jets history. Cruz took a 10-yard pass on a third-and-long, avoided would-be tacklers Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie and raced for a 99-yard touchdown, only the 13th 99-yard score in the history of the NFL. The Giants, dominated for the first 28 minutes, took control.

Game-changer. Season-changer. Franchise-changer.

"It shocked both teams and it sent us both in different directions," former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told me a few months later.

The play took 15 seconds, and one could argue the Jets still haven't recovered. They were on the verge of their third straight playoff appearance, but they lost that game and the next game to finish 8-8. Since losing to Cruz & Co., the Jets are 33-48 and haven't been back to the playoffs.

The Jets' six-year playoff drought has been defined by two plays -- well, three if you count the Butt Fumble. There was Cruz's epic touchdown and Ryan Fitzpatrick's red-zone interception against the Bills in the 2015 season finale.

Cruz's 99-yarder will be remembered as one of the great plays in Giants history. They entered that game at 7-7, coming off a loss, with coach Tom Coughlin on the hot seat. Six weeks later, they were combing confetti out of their hair after a ticker-tape parade as Super Bowl champions.

On the flip side, the Jets' fallout was dramatic. Think about how things might have been different if they had tackled Cruz:

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer probably would have kept his job, which would have meant no Tony Sparano.

With no Sparano, he of the Wildcat, former GM Mike Tannenbaum probably wouldn't have traded for Tim Tebow and signed Mark Sanchez to a contract extension.

Which means Tannenbaum probably would have kept his job as general manager, meaning no John Idzik.

With no Idzik, the Jets wouldn't have traded Darrelle Revis, which probably would have saved Rex Ryan.

With Ryan staying, there would have been no Todd Bowles coaching, no Chan Gailey at offensive coordinator and no Fitzpatrick.

Well, you get the picture.

Yes, Cruz had a great run with the Giants, highlighted (or lowlighted) by one play that sparked the blue faithful and demoralized the green.