Giants 24, Broncos 23
This was precisely what the New York Giants had in mind when they traded for Eli Manning on draft day last year. They thought they were getting a special quarterback, one who would move into their starting lineup quickly and stay there for a decade or more, one who eventually would make the improbable seem routine. Six games into his second NFL season, Manning is doing just that.
Just when his joy ride through his first full season as the Giants' starter seemed to be bogging down, Manning performed some quarterbacking magic to turn a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit into the sort of win that can be a springboard to bigger things. His two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Amani Toomer with five seconds left Sunday gave the Giants a 24-23 triumph over the Denver Broncos before a joyful crowd of 78,516 at Giants Stadium.
"It's just heart," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. "You're battling all the way. There's no script to these things. . . . I wish it was all easy and smooth, but it's not."
The Giants improved their record to 4-2 and tied the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East. They'll host the Redskins here next weekend with at least a share of the divisional lead on the line. The Broncos (5-2) lost for the first time since their season opener at Miami.
Denver appeared to be coasting with a 23-10 lead in the fourth quarter. The Giants were struggling on offense a week after managing only 13 points in an overtime defeat at Dallas, a game in which Manning crafted a late touchdown drive to produce a tying touchdown in regulation but never got to touch the ball in overtime.
This time, he got his chance to win the game and came through. Manning moved the Giants down the field calmly after they got possession of the ball at their 17-yard line with 3 minutes 29 seconds to play. His 24-yard completion to tight end Jeremy Shockey gave the Giants a first down at the Broncos 8 with 21 seconds to go. The Giants took their final timeout with 10 seconds remaining after a first-down incompletion and a second-down pass to tailback Tiki Barber for a six-yard gain.
The Broncos blitzed, and Barber made a good block to give Manning time. Manning backpedaled and, just before being hit by Denver safety John Lynch, released a high throw toward the middle of the end zone. Toomer made a leaping catch to successfully complete a play that the Giants had installed during the week. Place kicker Jay Feely's extra point gave the Giants their dramatic win.
"I was just able to buy some time, and find him open," Manning said. "It's definitely the biggest play so far of my career."
Manning completed 23 of 42 passes for 214 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. Barber ran for 86 yards and a touchdown, and Toomer and fellow Giants wideout Plaxico Burress combined for 14 catches for 146 yards.
Manning threw a first-quarter touchdown pass to Burress, but the Broncos were in control of the game for most of the afternoon. They churned out 191 rushing yards, 120 of them by tailback Mike Anderson. Anderson provided a second-quarter touchdown run, and quarterback Jake Plummer threw for a third-quarter touchdown. Place kicker Jason Elam provided three field goals, including a 27-yarder just less than two minutes into the fourth quarter that upped the Broncos' advantage to 23-10.
Barber's four-yard touchdown run got the Giants to within 23-17 with just more than nine minutes left. Elam had a chance to all but seal the outcome, but sent a 49-yard field-goal try wide right with about 51/2 minutes to go. Manning was intercepted by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, but Denver's offense couldn't get a first down and Manning and the Giants got one more chance after a punt.
"It's always tough when you feel like you have the game under control, and you get a few opportunities and field position and you don't take advantage of it," Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan said.
The day got off to a bad start for the Giants, as Barber lost a fumble on their third offensive play. The Broncos took over on the Giants 46 but couldn't move far, and grabbed a 3-0 edge only when Elam's 49-yard kick hit the crossbar and bounced over for his first field goal of the afternoon.
The Giants responded immediately, as Barber provided a 34-yard run on a 70-yard touchdown drive. On a second-down play from the Broncos 18, Manning lobbed a pass toward Burress in the end zone. Burress was covered closely by Bailey but won the jump ball and made the catch, leaving Bailey screaming at the nearest official that he'd been shoved. He didn't get the call, though, and the Giants were in front.
Denver narrowed the deficit to 7-6 on Elam's 42-yard field goal late in the first quarter, and moved ahead on a second-quarter touchdown drive. Shanahan left his offense on the field for a fourth-and-two gamble from the Giants 25, and Anderson converted with a seven-yard run. Anderson later bulldozed his way into the end zone from the 2.
The Giants got a 52-yard field goal by Feely just over a minute before halftime, but the Broncos needed only three plays to produce a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. Plummer found fullback Kyle Johnson for a four-yard touchdown pass, and the Giants defense heard some boos from the home crowd. The boos wouldn't last, however, thanks largely to Manning.
"We're definitely not playing as well as we did early in the year . . . [but] our offense knows we're never out of game," Burress said. "We know we have as many weapons on this offense as anyone in the league."