EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin and John Fox met at midfield and shared a laugh.
Defensive end Tommie Hill scored on a stunning 18-yard fumble return on the final play from scrimmage and the Giants took a 24-17 victory against the Panthers on Monday night.
"Kind of an interesting ending," said Fox, who was still smiling even though his team lost.
Stunning. Shocking. Unexpected. Pick a word. They all would fit.
Fourth-string quarterback Hunter Cantwell had tied the game with 57 seconds to play, taking Carolina on an 88-yard drive. He ran for 21 yards and passed for 67 on the five-play drive that ended with a 31-yard scoring pass to Jason Chery and a 2-point conversion pass to Andrew Davie.
The Giants had a three-and-out series and Jeff Feagles punted 56 yards to the Carolina 18 with 10 seconds to play.
Instead of taking a knee, Cantwell went back to pass on the next play and his arm was hit by Leger Douzable. The ball went in the air and Hill grabbed it and scurried into the left corner of the end zone for a shocking ending.
"I've never seen a game end like that, not that way," Hill said.
It was the first touchdown for the free-agent rookie from Colorado State since high school, and he kept the ball.
"I'm just a rookie trying to make the team," Hill added. "Anything like that that helps the team win in turn helps me. It was just a fortunate situation and I made the most of it."
The same holds true for Douzable, a second-year pro trying to earn a spot on a very talented line.
"Everybody figured on defense they would take a knee," Douzable said. "When they snapped it, I put a move on the guard. I saw the quarterback with the ball in his hand and I got it."
And the Giants and Panthers ended up avoiding overtime.
"Both sides have a lot of work, but we have time. We have three weeks to do it," Fox said.
New York also forced five turnovers, with the last one deciding the game.
Eli Manning, who signed a $97 million contract extension last week, played only two series for New York in trying to find a deep threat to replace the troubled Plaxico Burress, who was released in April in the wake of his self-inflicted gunshot wound.
While none of the receivers stood out, Manning had to be happy with his offensive line and running game. Brandon Jacobs had a 13-yard catch and run and rambled 22 yards on a 77-yard scoring drive that featured an 18-yard Manning pass to Domenik Hixon and the touchdown run by Bradshaw, who is replacing Derrick Ward, the 1,000 rusher who signed with Tampa Bay.
"We ran the ball really well, hit a couple passes and we got a touchdown," said Manning, who was 2 of 3 for 31 yards playing behind an offense line that was without starting guards Chris Snee and Rich Seubert. "That is always the goal. We did a nice job with it, so I thought we were effective as the first group."
James Anderson came clean on his punt block and got Carolina on the scoreboard with a safety midway through the second quarter. Feagles had to bat the ball out of the end zone to prevent a Panthers touchdown.
On third-and-10, New York had a perfect call against a Panthers' blitz and Ware was almost untouched scoring on a 36-yard screen pass.
Panthers safety Quinton Teal intercepted an Andre Woodson pass early in the third quarter and returned the ball 21 yards to the Giants 30. Goodson ran 16 yards with a pitch on the first down and then cut back left on the second play for the touchdown, although he was flagged for a taunting penalty for making a throat slash gesture after the run.
Tynes, who missed a 43-yard field goal earlier in the game that matched two teams that disappointed in the playoffs last season, seemed to give New York breathing room with his 46-yarder in the fourth quarter.
However, Cantwell tied the game with less than a minute to play and then coughed up the ball to go from hero to goat.
The game marked the return of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora to the Giants' lineup after missing last season with a knee injury. He delighted the crowd with a first-quarter sack.
Jake Delhomme, who suffered five interceptions in the playoff loss to Arizona, was 5 for 9 for 38 yards in an average performance over three series.