Freeman, Bucs edged by Giants
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New coach Greg Schiano and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers came pretty close to starting the season with two wins.
The young Bucs, though, could not hold a two-touchdown lead late in the third quarter, and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants rallied behind Eli Manning for a 41-34 victory on Sunday.
It took a near-record performance by Manning to make it happen. He threw for 510 yards — second most for a Giants quarterback — and Andre Brown ran 2 yards for a score with 31 seconds. The Bucs are 1-1.
“Overall, it was a cat and mouse game, and they won it,” new Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “They made plays. It’s a game of inches. They were able to make them. We were close but we didn’t.”
Manning overcame a miserable first half with a monster 295 yards passing in the second half, tying for the eighth most in NFL history and 3 yards short of Phil Simms’ club record. After his three first-half interceptions staked the Bucs to the 11-point lead, Manning helped the Giants avoid an 0-2 start.
Manning threw touchdowns of 23 yards to Hakeem Nicks, 80 to Victor Cruz and 33 to Martellus Bennett with 3:59 to play to give New York a 34-27 lead. Brown scored on a 2-point conversion run to tie the game after the Cruz score that ended with his trademark salsa.
“They are Super Bowl champs and they’re playing at home,” said Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson, who had five catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. “We knew they would come out in the second half, make some adjustments and put some things together. We know Eli Manning and his reputation late in the game. We wanted to keep the ball out of his hands. I don’t think we did that as well as we wanted to.”
Josh Freeman tied the game with a 41-yard pass to Mike Williams, but Manning drove New York 80 yards in four plays to win it. A 50-yard completing to Nicks led to Brown’s score, which came one play after he knelt at the 2 when Tampa Bay was letting him score.
Only the 1951 Rams had a 500-yard passer and two 150-yard receivers in the same game.
There was some postgame squabbling between Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Schiano. When they met on the field, Coughlin yelled at Schiano about a scrum when Manning took a knee after Michael Boley intercepted Freeman’s pass in the closing seconds.
“I don’t know if that’s something not done in the National Football League,” Schiano said. “What I do with our football team is we fight until they tell us game over. There’s nothing dirty about it. There’s not illegal about it.”
Manning was knocked on his rear end on the play and there was shoving and maybe even punches in the scrum. Coughlin contended that someone might have been hurt on a play in which teams typically go through the motions.
Manning finished 31 of 51 in helping the Giants gain 604 yards in total offense. Cruz, who attended his grandmother’s funeral on Friday, and Hicks, who has battled foot injuries all season and had a foot stomped on in the Giants’ 25-point fourth quarter, both had career games.
“We knew we could still get back in the game, so the guys fought and fought,” Manning said. “We got the ball and the defense kept getting the stops. We got the ball down there and got some big drives, just staying in the game.”
Cruz finished with 11 catches for 179 yards, both career highs, while Nicks had 10 catches for 199 yards, with the yardage a personal best.
Lawrence Tynes kicked four field goals for the Giants, who played a lot better after a dismal effort in the season-opening 24-17 loss to Dallas 10 days ago. But they were trailing for most of the game.
Freeman finished 15 of 28 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The first score covered 29 yards to Jackson, who had five catches for 128 yards. Doug Martin (20 for 66) ran 8 yards for a TD and Eric Wright returned the last of Manning’s interceptions 60 yards for a touchdown just :08 before halftime.
Trailing 27-13 early in the second half, the Giants scored 14 straight points. Manning caught safety Ronde Barber cheating for a pass underneath and Cruz ran right past him for his long score. Brown, who carried 13 times for 71 yards filling in for injured Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), tied the game with the 2-point run.
After a three-and-out by the Bucs, Manning drove the Giants 67 yards in four plays, hitting Bennett in stride for a go-ahead touchdown down the right sideline.
The lead didn’t last long. Tampa Bay drove 80 yards in five plays, with Freeman hitting Williams with a 41-yard strike in the end zone.
The Bucs turned Manning’s three first-half interceptions into 21 points, with the most crushing pick being Wright’s 60-yard return for a 24-13 lead.
Linebacker Mason Foster got the first interception at the Giants 28 early in the second quarter when Manning didn’t put enough air under a touch pass to Bennett.
Three plays later, Freeman showed poise under pressure and lofted an arcing pass that Jackson caught in stride for a touchdown.
Backup cornerback Brandon McDonald got the second interception as the replacement officials missed a holding call on Barber against Cruz. McDonald returned it 40 yards and a personal foul moved the ball to the 13. Martin scored two plays later.
Manning’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Nicks closed the gap to 17-13, but Wright ended the half with his big play.
NOTES: Wright’s interception return was the 40th defensive TD for the Bucs since 2000, the third most in the NFL behind Baltimore and Green Bay, who are tied at 42. …Tampa Bay PK Connor Barth made field goals of 45 and 52 yards and now has made 20 straight. …Foster led the Bucs with 13 tackles. …The Giants had two sacks with linebacker Chase Blackburn and Jason Pierre-Paul recording them. …Pierre-Paul led New York with eight tackles. ..The Giants rushed for 94 yards against a Bucs’ defense that limited Carolina to 10 yards in the season opener.