|Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks to pass as teammates Sean Locklear (75) and Kevin Boothe (77) block during the first half against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Manning threw for 510 yards, second most for a Giants quarterback. (AP)|
On a day in which he seemed destined to set a record for interceptions, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning nearly set the team's single-game mark for passing yards instead. Manning threw three first-half picks but finished with 510 passing yards and three touchdown tosses as the Giants came back to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41-34 and even both teams' records at 1-1.
“The first half was very disappointing,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said afterward. “A lesser group of men, I think, would have had trouble.”
In the first half, the Giants certainly looked like lesser men. The early exits of O-lineman David Diehl (knee), running back Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) and wide receiver Domenik Hixon (concussion) were exacerbated by poor decisions and missed opportunities in the red zone. The offense's lackluster tackling effort allowed Buccaneers cornerback Eric Wright to return Manning's third pick 60 yards for a touchdown and give his team a 24-13 lead at the half.
The Buccaneers defense yielded 327 net yards in the second half and ended the game by trying to hit Manning as he was downing the ball for the victory. The play led to a seemingly heated handshake between Coughlin and Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, who later said he had asked his defense to try and dislodge the ball from Manning's hands.
Regardless of whether it was a cheap shot, the Giants are thrilled to be in the win column.
When the game turned: Manning had three picks in the book when he connected with Victor Cruz on an 80-yard fourth-quarter touchdown. Cruz, who missed Friday's practice to mourn the death of his grandmother, finished with 11 catches for 179 yards, but none was more important than the catch that led to Andre Brown's game-tying two-point conversion. This was the first of three consecutive touchdown-scoring drives for the Giants and ultimately marked the point at which New York wrestled control of the game away from Tampa Bay. Beyond its significance, Cruz's catch was visually impressive as well. He split two defenders before winning a foot race down the right sideline.
Highlight moments: Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman wasn't brilliant Sunday, but receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams were. Williams' game-tying touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was probably the most impressive of Tampa Bay's offensive plays on the day, because he managed to keep his feet in bounds while battling Giants cornerback Justin Tryon on the left side of the end zone. In the end, Williams was able to trap the ball off the top of Tryon's helmet before securing the 41-yard catch.
Giants tight end Martellus Bennett dropped a would-be touchdown catch earlier in the fourth quarter but managed to haul in a more difficult pass with 3:59 remaining to give New York a 34-27 lead. The Buccaneers ultimately tied the game, so Bennett won't be considered the hero. Still, he jumped over and wrestled the ball away from Tampa Bay corner Brandon McDonald, which is impressive for a 265-pound tight end. And considering it was a 33-yard pass (which was slightly underthrown), Bennett deserves plenty of kudos after the win.
Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks entered the game with a bad foot, aggravated it in the fourth quarter, yet returned to battle for a 50-yard catch which ultimately led to the game-winning touchdown. It's hard to argue which of Nicks' 10 catches was his best, but his last one, which came with 1:28 remaining, was definitely his longest.
Top-shelf performances: Nicks and Cruz combined for 21 catches, 378 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions; and they may have cemented themselves as the NFL's best receiving tandem in the process. The gaudy numbers belie just how gritty a performance the duo produced -- particularly Nicks, who fought through foot pain the entire day.
Linebacker Mason Foster had an interception and 12 tackles for the Buccaneers. He did suffer some cramping in the second half as the Giants offense began heating up, but there's no denying that Foster played well enough to win.
The worst aspects of Manning's performance (three picks, 17-of-27 passing in the first half) only enhance his overall line (510 yards, three touchdowns, nine plays of 20 yards or more). Manning went into the tunnel at halftime to a chorus of boos and ended the game being showered by cheers.
Jackson had five catches, 128 yards and one touchdown. He looked physically superior to every Giants defensive back that dared to cover him.
What they said about the final play in which the Buccaneers defense knocked Manning to the ground while he attempted to down the ball:
Tom Coughlin: “You don't do that in this league. Not only that, you jeopardize the offensive line, you jeopardize the quarterback. Thank goodness we didn't get anybody hurt that I know of. A couple of linemen were late getting in.”
Greg Schiano: “I don't know if that's not something that's done in the National Football League. What I do with our football team is that we fight until they tell us 'game over.' And there's nothing dirty about it; there's nothing illegal about it. We crowd the ball like a sneak defense and try to knock it loose.”
Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy: “We do what we're coached.”
Numbers you should know: The Giants began nine drives while trailing -- they trailed for 21:59 -- and still managed to secure the win. Don't overlook running back Andre Brown's performance. The journeyman running back became the primary ball carrier after Bradshaw left the game, and Brown finished with 71 yards on 13 attempts, including the game-winning touchdown. Brown could have scored the game winner with 50 seconds remaining, but wisely went down on the 1-yard line, which ultimately cost the Buccaneers about 20 seconds on their ensuing drive.
Injury update: Bradshaw will have an MRI on his neck Monday. The Giants will likely have updates on the conditions of Diehl, Hixon and Bradshaw as well.
Buccaneers wide receiver Preston Parker suffered a foot injury and Wright had a back issue coming out of the game.
Going forward: It turns out the “easy” portion of the Giants' schedule wasn't easy at all. New York will have a short week before playing in Carolina against the Panthers on Thursday. The Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns are coming up in Weeks 4 and 5 respectively, so there's a chance the Giants could be 4-1 when they visit the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6.
The Buccaneers nearly improved to 2-0 on Sunday, but now will head to Dallas in Week 3 at 1-1. After a Week 4 game at home against the Washington Redskins and an early-season bye week, Tampa Bay will host the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6.