Yes, the Giants needed him to cover 80 yards to the end zone to give them a chance to tie the score at 27, but Cruz was thinking of his grandmother, Lucy Molina, the woman who inspired his trademark touchdown salsa dance.
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Molina died at age 77 of diabetes and other diseases last Monday, and Cruz attended her funeral on Friday. Here was his opportunity to deliver a special farewell.
"She came into my mind as soon as I caught it," Cruz said. "I knew there was nobody in sight, and I was just trying to beat that safety and make sure he didn't get an angle on me. Once I got to about the 3, I knew it was time to honor her, and I knew she was with me. It was almost like the place kind of went silent and I was there dancing with her. It was a good moment.
"I looked up and held my hands up to her to let her know that one was for her. I was glad more so we got the win, but I was glad I was able to do the salsa for her."
That was the highlight of the Giants' thrilling 41-34 comeback victory over the Bucs Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Manning passed for a career-best 510 yards, with Cruz hauling in 11 passes for 179 yards, including that 80-yard TD, and Hakeem Nicks catching 10 balls for 199 yards, including a 23-yard TD in the second quarter.
The Giants are the first team in NFL history to have two receivers with at least 10 catches and 175 yards receiving in the same game. Facing single coverage most of the game, the two made the Bucs pay.
"We know it was an emotional week for him," Nicks said of Cruz. "Going through a situation like that has got to be tough, but my hat goes off to him the way he handled it."
Nicks, who underwent foot surgery in May, tweaked the injury a couple of times late in the game but managed to play through it.
Two plays after injuring it the first time, Nicks caught a 20-yard pass that set up Manning's 33-yard strike to tight end Martellus Bennett for a 34-27 lead.
After the Bucs tied it, Nicks made a brilliant catch for a 50-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 11 to set up the winning touchdown, only to have Bucs safety Mark Barron step on his right ankle.
Cruz said he was "inspired" by Nicks' toughness.
"I just knew I had to shake it off," Nicks said. "That was a clutch time in the game, and I wasn't going to sit out . . . I had to dig deep and gut it out. The O-line did a great job of protecting Eli, Cruz did a great job on the opposite side, and we were just feeding off each other, making plays."