NFL Notebook

Giants’ Cruz was in total control

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / January 23, 2012
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Giants receiver Victor Cruz didn’t think this moment was coming, standing in an interview room after winning the NFC Championship game, with his team headed to the Super Bowl.

“Definitely not,’’ Cruz said. “Coming out of UMass, I was praying for an opportunity, praying for a team to believe in me, put me on the roster, pick me up and get me through training camp and hopefully I can do some positive things and get myself on the roster.’’

He certainly did that.

Cruz, who was undrafted, had 10 receptions for 142 yards in last night, with eight catches for 125 yards in the first half. He was able to exploit his matchup with 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers.

It wasn’t all that surprising, given that Cruz exploded for 82 receptions and 1,536 yards this season, becoming one of the elite receivers in the game.

But it was a heavy workload for Cruz, who hadn’t had double digits in catches in a game this season. It was, however, only his fifth-highest yardage total of the season. Cruz had six catches for 84 yards in the first matchup with the 49ers.

“It was pretty tiring,’’ Cruz said of his first-half explosion. “I was just telling myself, This team isn’t going to take this from me. I’m not going to let fatigue . . . let this slip away from me. I’m going to make every necessary adjustment, make every catch that comes my way, and just try to move the chains the best I can.’’

He did that, including a 36-yard reception that helped set up the Giants’ first touchdown.

“To go out there and have 10 catches in an NFC Championship game - I don’t even know how to explain it,’’ Cruz said. “It’s just been an emotional ride.’’

Deep feelings

The Giants were well aware that a victory meant a Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots.

“I’m trying to fight it,’’ Giants coach Tom Coughlin said about the feeling of deja vu, given the way the team just beat the 49ers and the impending matchup with the Patriots. “Osi [Umenyiora] sat next to me in there and just looked at me with a smile on his face, and he said, ‘Have you thought about how this is coming down?’

“That’s a little deep for me, I think.’’

All tied up

Both teams had exactly 319 total yards at the start of overtime . . . The 49ers converted just one of 13 third-down opportunities. “That’s just an area where we have to get better,’’ said 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who scored both San Francisco touchdowns. “It’s something we need to work on. It’s too late to go back into the past. We lost the game.’’

Kelly, Bucs close

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oregon coach Chip Kelly are involved in contract discussions and close to reaching a deal that would make him the team’s new coach, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

Kelly interviewed with the Buccaneers last week and the sides are reportedly aiming to work out a deal within the next 48 hours, according to a source close to Kelly.

The Bucs will resolve talks with Kelly before proceeding further with their search, the source said.

Kelly would replace Raheem Morris, who was fired after a 4-12 season. The Bucs lost their last 10 games and finished last in points allowed (30.9).

Kelly went 34-6 in three seasons at Oregon, reaching a BCS game all three years. He was previously an assistant at Columbia, New Hampshire, and Johns Hopkins before becoming Oregon’s offensive coordinator in 2007.

Payton finalists named

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, Ravens center Matt Birk, and Bears cornerback Charles Tillman are finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. The award will be presented Feb. 4 in Indianapolis.

The only league award that recognizes a player’s community service as well as his playing excellence, the Walter Payton winner will have a $20,000 donation made in his name to his favorite charity.

Owens to Pro Bowl

Jaguars fullback Montell Owens was added to the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. Owens replaces the Patriots’ Matthew Slater as the conference’s special teams player. Owens joins running back Maurice Jones-Drew as the team’s only representatives in Hawaii for next Sunday’s game.

Owens, an undrafted free agent from Maine in 2006 who was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2010, led the Jaguars in special teams tackles with 13 and had two forced fumbles.

Amalie Benjamin reported from San Francisco. Material from the Associated Press was used.

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