EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. » Eli Manning needed a near-record performance to make up for his own mistakes and help the Super Bowl champion New York Giants avoid a second straight loss.
Manning threw for 510 yards and three touchdowns and capped the second greatest passing day by a Giants’ quarterback by setting up Andre Brown’s game-winning 2-yard run with a 50-yard pass that lifted New York to a wild 41-34 victory Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The game featured four touchdowns in the final 6:48, and ended with some postgame squabbling between Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. Coughlin screamed at the former Rutgers coach after Manning was knocked down on the final play because the Bucs went all out to try to force a fumble on a kneel-down.
"I told some of our young players, you’ve played in big games in college, but this is something else," Giants defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "This is what you live for. We’d have liked to play better, but if I was a fan at the game and not so close, I would have enjoyed it."
Manning, who completed 31 of 51 passes, made it really enjoyable for Giants’ fans. The two-time Super Bowl MVP overcame a miserable first half with a 295 yards passing in the second half, tying for the eighth most in NFL history and coming up 3 yards short of Phil Simms’ club record. After his three first-half interceptions staked the Bucs (1-1) to an 11-point lead, Manning was nearly flawless when the Giants needed him at his best.
"Eli hung in. He made a couple of bad plays, but he didn’t get discouraged," Coughlin said. "We just kept talking about the character of this team and we finally made some plays and came back."
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. After Cruz scored and celebrated with his trademark salsa, Brown scored on a 2-point conversion run to tie the game.
"Nobody wants to start 0-2, so it was a big win, especially after the first half playing poorly," said Manning, whose previous single-game best was 420 yards passing against Seattle in a loss last season. "After not playing well, it’s kind of getting back to that level of playing good football. Really good. No punts, no turnovers. Some big-time plays and stepping up when we needed it, that was fun to have."
In 1951, Los Angeles’ Norm Van Brocklin threw for a record 554 yards against New York.
Josh Freeman tied the game at 34-all with a 41-yard pass to Mike Williams, but Manning drove New York 80 yards in four plays to win it. A 50-yard completion to Nicks led to Brown’s score, which came one play after he kneeled at the 2 when Tampa Bay was letting him score.
"They made plays. It’s a game of inches," Schiano said. "They were able to make them. We were close and we didn’t. Just got to do a better job all around, coaching, playing.
Schiano defended the way the Bucs played on the final snap, saying his team will play through the final whistle, which came one play after Michael Boley intercepted Freeman’s pass at the Giants 30 in the closing seconds.
Manning was not hurt, but there was shoving and maybe even punches in the scrum.
"It was a little bit of a cheap shot," Manning said. "We’re taking a knee in a friendly way and they’re firing off. It’s a good way to get someone hurt."
Manning’s effort helped the Giants gain 604 yards and hold the ball for 33:29. 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.
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.
The Giants are the second team in NFL history to have a 500-yard passer and two 150-yard receivers in the same game. Van Brocklin’s ’51 Rams were the first.
"This team always says we’re going to come back. It’s just a confidence level you’ve got to have," Nicks said. "Eli is an elite quarterback, so there’s a confidence that he can get it done."
Lawrence Tynes kicked four field goals for the Giants, who played a lot better after a season-opening 24-17 loss to Dallas 10 days ago. But they trailed for most of the game.
Freeman finished 15 of 28 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The first score covered 29 yards to Vincent 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.
"It hurts, but I still believe in my teammates, and the coaching, and the staff," Buccaneers defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. "It’s going to come together and it’s going to be something great."
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. Manning was moving New York into position for a field goal when Wright simply reached up and snatched Manning’s short pass to Cruz. He then weaved his way through a logjam and down the sideline.
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.
"He made some throws," Barber said. "They made more plays than we did. One more, in fact."
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.