Eli battles through early struggles
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has thrown more interceptions than any quarterback in football since he entered the league in 2004, but he also leads the league in fourth-quarter comebacks in that same span — including two with a Super Bowl on the line.
So it’s safe to say the ninth-year pro doesn’t get rattled when the going gets tough.
On Sunday, Manning put his team in a 24-13 halftime hole against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with three costly first-half picks. But he emerged from the Giants locker room unfazed for the third quarter, and the New York offense found its groove, using 21 straight points to rally for a 41-34 win at MetLife Stadium.
With the win, the Giants finally put a disappointing Week 1 loss to Dallas behind them and avoided their first 0-2 start since the 2007 season — the year of Manning’s first Super Bowl.
“No one wants to start 0-2,” Manning said after the game. “We’ve obviously done it before and made a run and got into the playoffs, but it’s a big win, especially after the first half playing poorly last week not playing well, to get back to that level of good football.”
Early on, New York’s offense seemed to be suffering from the 10-day layoff between their opener and Sunday afternoon’s game. The Giants’ first two drives stalled inside the Bucs red zone — the second a result of dropped passes in the end zone by both left tackle Will Beatty and tight end Martellus Bennett — and then Manning came unglued.
Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster intercepted Manning’s first pass of the third drive, setting up a three-play, 28-yard touchdown drive to give the Bucs a 10-6 lead. Then Manning’s second pick gave Tampa Bay the ball at the New York 13, setting up another easy score. Manning’s third misguided pass found Tampa Bay cornerback Eric Wright, who returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with eight seconds left in the half.
At that point, it would have been easy for the Giants to mail it in, but that’s hardly a hallmark of a Tom Coughlin team, and the Giants head coach had plenty of faith in Manning to right the ship.
“He made a couple bad plays and yet he didn’t get discouraged,” Coughlin said of his quarterback. “He kept hanging in and looking for his spots, and he got a few and took full advantage of it. And then finally the big play came back in for us.”
And once the big plays started coming, the Bucs seemed helpless to stanch the flow of New York offense. With the Giants trailing 27-19 midway through the fourth quarter, Manning found wideout Victor Cruz unbelievably wide open after Cruz blew by Ronde Barber, and hit him with an 80-yard touchdown strike.
A two-point conversion tied the score at 27-27 with 6:48 to play, and the next five Manning completions went for 14, 20, 33, 24 and 50 yards, respectively.
The 33-yard pass was a touchdown to Bennett, who redeemed himself after dropping a sure touchdown earlier in the game, and the 50-yarder to Hakeem Nicks set up a two-yard touchdown run by Andre Brown to give the Giants a 41-34 lead with 31 seconds to play.
“As a quarterback you like to throw it, you like to be in that mix and spread them out and see what they’re doing, have some runs, have some throws and mix things up,” Manning said. “Obviously it’s fun when guys are getting open and guys are making plays and you get to fight back.”
All told, the final stats looked like something out of a video game.
Nicks, who broke his right foot during the preseason, led the Giants with 10 catches for a career-high 199 yards and a touchdown. And Cruz, whose grandmother passed away this week, also set a career high with 179 receiving yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.
“It was great to have all of our weapons and Victor and Hakeem both stepped up and made some big-time catches and third down conversions,” Manning said. “Both those guys really played outstanding, played tough, and took some hits, but kept fighting back and wanted to be in there. It’s a great 1-2 punch.”
As for Manning himself, he set a career high with 510 yards passing, 295 of them coming in the second half — and 243 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
Manning’s eye-popping yardage total represented the second-biggest passing game in Giants history, behind only Phil Simms’ 513 in October 1985, and tied him with Drew Brees for the seventh-most passing yards in a game since the AFL-NFL merger.
“He’s just calm, he has resolve, he’s unflappable,” Cruz said. “He’s the same guy that in the Super Bowl didn’t panic and just threw the football and we were catching it. He didn’t panic, he wasn’t yelling. He was his normal calm self, calling the play call, and we were just following orders.”
Said defensive lineman Justin Tuck: “The good thing about him is he has a short memory. (Even with) three interceptions, he went out there in the second half like he had a perfect quarterback rating. He made some huge plays for us to help us get back in the game.”
Manning, however, looked at his historic day with a little more criticism.
“If you counted all my interception yards,” he noted, “I’d probably be No. 1.”
Up next for the Giants is a trip to Charlotte to face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers this Thursday, and it’s unclear who New York will have available after right tackle David Diehl (knee), wide receiver Dominik Hixon (concussion) and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) all left Sunday’s game with injuries.
But even on a short week and with holes dotting the offense, the Giants can take comfort in knowing that they’ve always got a chance so long as Manning is under center.