Victor Cruz has something to prove

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Victor Cruz was supposed to be in for a "rude awakening."

Once NFL defenses got a taste of the salsa dance last year, Roddy White naturally figured things would get much tougher for Cruz the second time around.

The Falcons receiver also said in September that Cruz is a slot receiver and not one of the "big boys" who "play on the outside."

Cruz won't say exactly how he feels about what White said, other than pointing out back in September that he has a Super Bowl ring. But after posting a 1,000-yard season and scoring nine touchdowns for the second straight year, Cruz figures his numbers should silence his critics.

"Without saying it verbally, yes," Cruz said with a smile, when asked if his stats this season should quiet White and any other doubters. "It is an honor to play for this team, and to come from the way I came up and to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. If you were to tell me that five or 10 years ago, I wouldn't have believed you."

If White still doesn't believe in Cruz, the Giants receiver hopes to show what he is capable of Sunday when the Giants travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons in a rematch of an NFC wild-card playoff game last January.

The game features two of the best receiving tandems in the league: Cruz and Hakeem Nicks for the Giants (8-5), and White and Julio Jones for the Falcons (11-2).

"We're a better group than them," White said in that NFL Network interview back in September. "I am not taking shots at people. Victor Cruz is a lot more of a slot receiver. The big boys play on the outside."

The last time Cruz and White saw each other, the Giants spanked the Falcons 24-2 in that playoff game.

Cruz was quiet, with two catches for 28 yards. Nicks exploded for six catches, 115 yards and two touchdowns, including a 72-yard score. White had five catches for 52 yards, while Jones posted seven receptions for 64 yards.

In Cruz's magical breakout season, he had 82 receptions, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, capping it off with a ring.

Through 13 games this season, Cruz has nearly topped last year's totals in receptions and touchdowns, recording 76 catches, nine scores and 1,004 yards so far.

Cruz is hoping this season will lead not only to a Pro Bowl berth but also a fat contract extension.

The Giants and their salsa-stepping receiver have had contract negotiations, but after the structure of a new deal was said to be in place several weeks ago, Cruz still doesn't have a new deal.

"Right now we are just going back and forth until the numbers are right in our favor and what we like," said Cruz, who is making $540,000 this season before becoming a restricted free agent. "There's some give-and-take, no one side is just going to win the entire negotiation.

"Once we get closer to the numbers that we want, then the deal will be signed," he added. "There are some things that are in place, like the structure and things like that. So it is just a matter of time."

Even White, who has six straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons, admitted before last year's playoff game that Cruz deserved a sweet payday "anytime you put out those kinds of numbers."

Cruz said White was right about one thing -- he has seen more defensive attention this year.

Defensive end Justin Tuck thinks Cruz has proven that he is here to stay.

"I never had any doubts," Tuck said. "I think he is with the elites of the wide receivers group. He's shown that he's no fluke."

Of course, Cruz doesn't want to sell himself short. While he would like the security of a new deal and doesn't want to risk losing money due to an unforeseen injury, Cruz knows his leverage will improve the better he continues to play and the further the Giants go this season.

Cruz also leads NFC wide receivers in Pro Bowl voting as of Dec. 12, with voting extending through Dec. 17. The former undrafted free agent out of UMass has been part of a viral Pro Bowl campaign, including Internet videos of him catching balls shot out of a cannon and dropped out of a moving plane.

The term "Pro Bowler" would certainly enhance his contract stance.

"I feel like at this point, until a deal gets signed, we are still building more things on that résumé," Cruz said. "And I feel like that is only going to help my case right now. Hopefully, we can continue to perform and pray for the best and not think about getting injured because that is when injuries happen. Just keep playing."

And keep proving to White, and others who think otherwise, that Cruz is one of the big boys.

"To not just him but to myself," Cruz said. "I wanted to prove to myself that I could play at a high level and continue to do all the good things that I was doing last year.

"And I think I proved that."