Eli comes to life late as Giants win
Eli Manning needed less than a minute, and some good fortune on a play that could have ruined it all, to turn a sad afternoon into a sweet victory.
Manning, playing at the scene of his 2008 Super Bowl triumph, threw two touchdown passes in a 58-second span late in the game and the New York Giants rallied to stun the Arizona Cardinals 31-27 on Sunday.
The scoring passes of 2 yards to Jake Ballard with 3:37 to go and 29 yards to Hakeem Nicks with 2:39 left came after the Cardinals (1-3) seemingly had taken control at 27-17 on Beanie Wells' third rushing touchdown of the game with 5:16 to go.
The go-ahead touchdown came after Manning threw 29 yards to Victor Cruz, who stumbled to the ground, got up and left the ball on the ground on a play the Cardinals insisted was a fumble.
The referee said the call could not be challenged because Cruz "gave himself up" on the play and therefore was down.
The rule book says a play is over when a runner "declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance."
Cruz added more confusion by saying he thought he'd been touched by a defender.
"I saw the guy coming and I wanted to get down," he said. "I thought I was tagged down and I got up and was going to the next play. I thought I was touched so the ref called it down. I felt like I was touched, I thought somebody touched me. I guess in the heat of the moment you probably don't feel it or you think someone touched you, but I definitely thought I was touched."
Whatever happened, Manning was relieved.
"We got a break on that one I think," he said. "I thought it was going to get ruled a fumble and I saw it pretty clear. I don't know what the call was or why."
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said all he knew was that the referee told him it could not be challenged.
"What's the understanding of that rule? I don't know," Whisenhunt said. "I'd like to think it shouldn't have come to that play. That's kind of the way I have to look at it."
The Cardinals were still fuming when Manning ran the next play, throwing to Nicks for the go-ahead score.
"It hurts because we thought it was a fumble and it should be our ball, and then we probably win the game," Arizona defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "Then you get caught up in the emotion and they line up and throw a deep ball. They took advantage of our emotions."
Manning completed 7 of 8 for 126 yards on the decisive drives as the Giants (3-1) won their third in a row. He finished 27 of 40 for 371 yards. Nicks caught 10 passes for 162 yards.
Arizona rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson was asked what Manning did differently on those last two possessions.
"Honestly he didn't do anything impressive," Peterson said. "We've just got to make plays, to be honest with you."
Going to the no-huddle got things in gear for the Giants in the nick of time.
"They ran the ball on us, they threw the ball on us," New York head coach Tom Coughlin said. "We had many occasions where we weren't able to make any first downs. For us to come back and play like we did and have an opportunity — we still gave the ball away on the 5 — and to overcome it, it is a real testimony for the guys to keep on playing."
Wells, who missed the previous game with a hamstring injury, rushed for a career-best 138 yards.
The Cardinals' last gasp ended when Kevin Kolb's pass to Larry Fitzgerald from the New York 30 fell incomplete. Arizona has lost three in a row, all in the same excruciating fashion.
"I'm just disappointed, very disappointed," Kolb said. "It's just hard to swallow losing one like that."
Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 102 yards to break the franchise records for career yards receiving and career 100-yard games. Kolb, still struggling to take hold of Arizona's offense, was 20 for 34 for 237 yards, with one interception and one lost fumble.
Wells' 39-yard run set up his final touchdown but Manning wasted no time in moving his team downfield with completions of 21, 28 and 26 yards to the 2 to set up the toss to the tight end Ballard.
The Cardinals took the lead with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns, one set up by Fitzgerald's phenomenal grab of a 47-yard pass, the other when Manning fumbled the ball away at the New York 5.
Nose tackle David Carter, a sixth-round draft pick out of UCLA, burst up the middle and stripped the ball out of Manning's hand. Darnell Dockett fell on the ball for Arizona.
Wells ran for 4 yards, then plunged in from the 1 to put Arizona up 20-10 with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
The big play for Arizona earlier in the third came when Fitzgerald and defender Deon Grant went up after Kolb's long pass. Initially, Grant appeared to have the ball, but as they came down, Fitzgerald wrestled it away with his right arm. The 47-yard completion gave Arizona the ball at the New York 10.
A 7-yard pass to Fitzgerald gave Arizona a first down at the 1, and Wells pounded it in from there to put Arizona up 13-10 with 10:24 left in the third quarter.
Arizona couldn't convert any of three scoring opportunities into touchdowns in the first half and the Giants' offense came alive for a 10-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, then Lawrence Tynes kicked a 30-yard field goal with a second to play to put New York up 10-6 at the break.
Ahmad Bradshaw, whose fumble on New York's first possession set up an Arizona field goal, rambled 13 yards for the score with 2:54 to play in the half.
Game notes: Arizona starting right offensive tackle Brandon Keith left the game in the second quarter with a right knee sprain. ... Kolb was sacked three times in the first half, twice by Dave Tollefson, and fumbled deep in New York territory. ... The Giants were making their second return to University of Phoenix Stadium since their 2008 Super Bowl triumph. They lost at Arizona 37-29 on Nov. 23, 2008. ... Fitzgerald wore pink shoes in honor of breast cancer awareness day and is a spokesman for the league-wide awareness for women to be regularly tested for the illness. His mother died of the disease.