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Giants' Jernigan making most of opportunity

12/23/2013 4:26 PM ET
By The Associated Press

Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan had a big day playing in place of the injured Victor Cruz.(AP)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) After being eliminated from playoff contention two weeks ago, the New York Giants knew they were playing for jobs next season.

Little-used wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan has more than earned his in less than two games.

Stepping in for an injured Victor Cruz, Jernigan has caught 13 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in the last five quarters. The total includes a 15-yard catch on a fourth-and-seven play in overtime that set up Josh Brown's game-winning 45-yard field goal in the Giants' 23-20 win over Detroit that knocked the Lions out of the playoff picture.

Prior to that, Jernigan had caught 13 passes for 111 yards in his first 30 games, covering most of his first three NFL seasons. He was a benchwarmer, who doubled as a kickoff returner.

The season-ending knee injury to Cruz late in the third quarter against Seattle changed his life, and he has made the most of his chance.

"I just wanted to go out there and show the coaches what I can do with the absence of Cruz," Jernigan said Monday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I wanted to make plays, explosive plays for my team to show the coaches - with Cruz coming back next year - I can be another asset."

Jernigan showed that against the Lions after overcoming a flu bug the night before the game and a knee injury the week before. He caught his first career touchdown on a 20-yard pass from Eli Manning, snaring the ball between cornerback Bill Bentley and safety Louis Delmas.

Delmas hit Bentley on the play and Bentley had to leave the game with a concussion.

When the Giants drafted Jernigan in the third round in 2011, they envisioned the 5-foot-8 player out of Troy as a quick receiver who would be good in the slot position.

The problem for Jernigan was that was the same year that Victor Cruz emerged as one of the NFL's top receivers. The former free agent from Massachusetts caught 82 passes for a franchise-record 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns in helping the Giants (6-9) win their second Super Bowl in five years.

Cruz was just as good in 2012 and this season, and Jernigan looked like a third-round bust. But the game against Seattle a week ago Sunday changed a lot of opinions about Jernigan. The play that got people to open their eyes was a 14-yard catch in the fourth quarter.

Jernigan didn't score on the play. All he did was bounce off a monster hit by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor to turn a short catch into a first down. The hit not only was big, Chancellor was flagged for a personal foul.

"I got hit and bounced back and realized I was still up," Jernigan said while laughing. "So I just got going again, picked up as much as I could and avoided another hit at the end. I think that showed everybody I could take a lick, and I was a tough guy."

Jernigan said Chancellor walked up to him after the game and told him that was one of the hardest shots he had delivered on a receiver.

"He praised me for taking it," Jernigan said.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin also has been impressed.

"This is two games in a row he's played really well, and to be honest with you, this week, he was injured and he was sick last night, so he keeps you right on the edge of your seat, whether or not he's going to be able to go," Coughlin said. "He bounced back and he's a tough guy."

Jernigan hasn't set any goals for the season-finale against Washington this weekend. He just wants another win.

"The one thing that I know about this team is we are never going to quit," Jernigan said. "We're going to go out and fight like warriors, week in and week out.

"No matter who is on the field."

NOTES: Coughlin had no medical updates on RB Andre Brown (concussion), TE Adrien Robinson (knee) and G Brandon Mosley (broken hand).

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