Giants WR Jernigan making most of opportunity

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).

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org